§ [FIRST DAY]
§ 2.40 p.m.
§ Major W. J. Anstruther-Gray (Berwick and East Lothian)
I beg to move,That an humble Address be presented to Her 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.I am sure that it would be the wish of the whole House that I should first of all express our gratification that Her Majesty was able to be present in person this morning to open Parliament for the first time in her reign. I am sure, too, that the House would like me to express with humble duty our deep appreciation of the grace, dignity and charm with which Her Majesty carried out her traditional role on this the first, as we hope, of many similar occasions. May I express our pleasure that His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh was able to accompany the Queen on this historic day?
Now for the business of this afternoon. I cannot claim the indulgence of the House as a maiden speaker—I exhausted that claim about 20 years ago—but I know that the House will be tolerant and kindly to me, because this is a difficult speech to make. As hon. Members will expect of me, I have been at pains to look up the precedents, but I am bound to say that the precedents have not in every case been entirely reassuring.
Going back to the year of Her Majesty Queen Victoria's first opening of Parliament in 1837, I find that whereas the hon. Member moving the Address got through his speech without mishap, the hon. Member seconding was not so fortunate. I assure my hon. Friend who is to follow me this afternoon that I am by no means trying to cause him to be alarmed, but the fact is that the Seconder had filled scarcely 20 lines of HANSARD on that occasion when his predicament is thus described in the OFFICIAL REPORT, speaking in the third person as as the custom in those days:The hon. Member appeared to have entertained the intention of addressing the 8 House at greater length, and referred to his notes, remaining standing a few minutes on his feet without speaking. But after some time, he was understood to apologise for so far trespassing on their indulgence and he sat down.I only hope, speaking for my hon. Friend and myself, that if such an awful fate were to overtake us this afternoon, at any rate, even in this rough atomic age, we could rely upon some kindly spirit in the region of the Official Reporters' Gallery to cause the scene to be described in terms a little less acutely brutal. Whether that kindly spirit would be equally successful in preaching the doctrine of charity and forbearance in the Press Gallery is perhaps another matter.
But there must be no failure today, because I speak as the Member for Berwick and East Lothian, and it is a compliment to that constituency that I have been selected for this task. I am sure it will be accepted as a compliment not only by those two famous Scottish counties but also, I hope, throughout all Scotland, as an earnest of Her Majesty's Government's determination that Scotland will take no secondary place in the affairs of the United Kingdom.
Indeed, looking back on the events of the past year, with the Scottish Housing Bill, the Ministers of the Crown Bill for Scotland, added to the fact that the Royal Commission has been set up and is now sitting to consider Scottish affairs, with a Measure for electricity forecast in the Gracious Speech and also with assistance in the building of fishing boats, which will I hope be of benefit to Scotland and, indeed, to my own fishermen constituents, I am sure that nobody could reasonably suggest that Scotland is being ignored by Her Majesty's Administration.
If I may come to the Gracious Speech, with which I must deal on non-controversial lines, it follows the pattern expected of it—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—and if somebody were to say that there is nothing very much that is new in it, I would say that it is none the worse for that. I must be non-controversial, but surely I am right in saying that if democracy is to be a success in this country of ours it can only be if the electorate have confidence that the Government when returned to power try, at any rate, to carry out their Election pledges.
9 Whatever the House may say about the de-nationalisation of iron and steel or about the changes in transport, and however highly controversial those matters may be—and we are likely to have experience of it in the days and perhaps the nights, too, that lie ahead in this Session—nobody can say that these were not included in the programme that Her Majesty's Government put forward when asking for the country's support 12 months ago. I believe that Governments, regardless of colour, are deserving of all praise if they try to do what they put in their Election addresses.
May I turn now to the safer ground of foreign affairs, May I quote my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in the speech that he made in 1943, I believe, at Harvard University, in America. It describes what I believe to be the background against which foreign affairs should be approached:Tyranny is our foe. Whatever trappings or disguise it wears, whatever language it speaks, we must for ever be on our guard.I think that the House will welcome the references to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. I think the House will welcome the references to our friendly relations with the United States of America, and will also welcome the closer association forecast with the rest of Europe. I am sure that we must all hope that the Government will be successful in making the world a less dangerous and a more peaceful place.
I wonder if hon. Members would allow me to add just this. I believe there is not only every reason to hope but every reason to expect that another 12 months of Her Majesty's Government's careful, cautious and non-provocative conduct of foreign affairs may be sufficient to banish into oblivion for all time the bogy of the finger on the trigger.
I think the House will also welcome the reference in the Gracious Speech to the Commonwealth Conference—the first, as it will be, for 20 years. I myself place great store on this meeting of our Dominion Prime Ministers, and I very much liked the approach of the Prime Minister of Australia when he said the other day:Nothing will be achieved if all the delegates do is to meet and to be sentimental. 10 Only the toughest and clearest thinking can break through the problems that lie ahead of us.I am sure that that is the approach that the House would like Her Majesty's Ministers to make when attending that Commonwealth Conference.
But, pausing among these items in the Gracious Speech, important as they are, I feel that I am straying from what ought to be the main theme of my speech this afternoon. This is the occasion of Her Majesty's first opening of Parliament, and 1953 is to be the year of Her Majesty's Coronation. No matter what may be the outcome of foreign or Dominion conferences—though we hope that they will be far-reaching—it is not going to be for any foreign or Dominion conference that the year 1953 will be remembered by the British peoples. Again, no matter how fierce are our battles in this House on the question of iron and steel and transport, it is not going to be by those divisions and those battles that 1953 will be marked in history. It will be as Coronation year that 1953 will be remembered.
Already men and women of all ages are looking forward to the Coronation. It is not only in the United Kingdom and in the Dominions but in the Colonies as well, and in every quarter of the globe where British people live that so much thought, so much hope, and so many prayers will all be centred upon this great event and upon the single Crown. What a tremendous burden of responsibility falls upon the shoulders of our Gracious Queen in the months that lie ahead. Surely our hearts go out in sympathy and surely that is the note on which hon. Members on both sides of the House would like me to close today.
It goes without saying that Her Majesty can count upon the dutiful loyalty of this honourable House. Indeed, those words are incorporated in the traditional Preamble with which I opened this Address; but may I, with humble duty, on behalf of the whole House, assure Her Majesty that she can count on much more than that? She can count upon the sympathy; she can count upon the understanding; she can count upon the admiration and upon the affection of every hon. Member here in her historic task.
§ 2.52 p.m.
§ Mr. H. A. Price (Lewisham, West)
I beg to second the Motion.
I greatly prize the honour of being allowed to second this Motion. It is an honour not to me, but to the people of West Lewisham who sent me here to represent them.
My constituency is one of three in the borough of Lewisham—a borough which bore its full share of London's war-time ordeal. Memories of those troubled days and nights begin to fade, but we possess a constant and unhappy reminder in the form of a housing list which bears the names of nearly 11,600 families. I hope the House will understand, therefore, that the people of Lewisham will probably consider it particularly appropriate that they should be so closely associated with a Gracious Speech which places special emphasis upon the Government's housing plan. There will be many, too, who will await with keen interest the promised statement of policy on leasehold reform, in the hope that it will offer them security of tenure and relief from excessive claims for dilapidations.
At the beginning of each new Parliament, Mr. Speaker, in accordance with ancient custom and on behalf of the Members of this House, petitions the reigning Monarch in the matter of certain rights and privileges, notably freedom of speech. Sir, one of your predecessors, Mr. Speaker John Croke, so petitioned Queen Elizabeth I in the year 1601, the last year in which she addressed this House of Commons. Through the lips of her Lord Keeper, the Queen willingly consented, but she added this caution:That the matter be not spent in Idle and Vain matters, Painting out the same with Froth and Volubility of Words. And Her Majesty Commandeth: That you suffer not any Speeches made for Contention or Contradiction-sake, maintained only by a Tempest of Words.The House will no doubt consider it appropriate that I should take that advice. I propose, therefore, to comment upon only two sentences in the Gracious Speech which seem to me to be among the most important—those which refer to increased productive efficiency and the forthcoming Conference of Commonwealth Prime Ministers.
I think that it is agreed among us all, wherever we sit, that the nation faces abnormal problems of great gravity. In 12 considering these matters, some have sought to draw a parallel between the first great Elizabethan Age, of the 16th century and the second which has just begun. In one respect at least I submit that that comparison holds good. Then we were a small island race confronted by extremely powerful European-based Empires, and we triumphed only by the exercise of those qualities which we possessed to a remarkable degree—skill and daring, courage and resource. Now, again, we face the competition of world States far larger and possessing far greater material resources than ourselves.
It is probably true to say, therefore, that we face a situation just as challenging as that which faced our forebears 350–400 years ago. For at least a generation we shall need, in full measure, all the qualities which saved us then. In the face of such a situation, it is indeed fortunate that we possess a working population of a quality unsurpassed anywhere in the world, and we all rejoice that they have earned for themselves especially during the past generation, a gradually but steadily improving standard of life. We must not be content. We must always aim higher. But is there not a possibility that in this process something precious may be overlain? Is there not a danger that amid the distracting advantages of this modern age we may lose sight of some of the simpler virtues of our fathers?
The message which I am trying to convey to the House—I fear inadequately—is one which my own father left with me. He was a labourer, but I would never have called him a humble labourer, for he was not. He was a proud one. He took a pride in digging his ditches trim and true, and at the end of the day's work he would often tell, with perhaps just a touch of boastfulness, how many loads of soil he had shifted that day.
Is this not one of the simpler virtues which we would all do well to seek to preserve—the honest satisfaction in a job well done; this and all the other moral factors which have for so long been the foundation of our natural character? For surely it is this kind of quality above all others which we shall need in the future, both at home and abroad, but especially in the new programme of Imperial development which is foreshadowed in the Gracious Speech.
13 I think that everyone realises that we must now turn our energies to the development of new sources of food for our people, of raw material for our factories and of new markets for our goods. Happily for us, the opportunities exist, in Australia and New Zealand, in Canada and in the vast lands of Africa, lie sources of wealth unmeasured and untapped. But the age of the foot-slogging pioneer has gone. It was written as long ago as 1908 that.It is no good trying to lay hold of tropical Africa with naked fingers. Civilisation must be armed with machinery. … Iron roads, not jogging porters; tireless engines, not weary men; cheap power, not cheap labour; steam and skill, not sweat and fumbling; there lies the only way to tame the jungle.I hope the House will allow me to say that although this may have been one of the first, it was certainly not the last occasion upon which my right hon. Friend has proved a true prophet. For certain it is that colonisation has now become a job not simply for the farmer and the businessman, but for the specialist and the technician, the chemist and the physicist, the doctor and the engineer. The problems are old, but the techniques must be modern. We can now produce the iron roads and the tireless engines—though to produce enough of them in time will strain our productivity to the utmost. We now have the highly trained men and women, but, again, we have not enough of them for the task and the opportunities that are waiting.
I therefore see this age as a double challenge for our people—materially because if we are to survive as a great nation we must surmount this problem of productivity, not only for its own sake but because of the contribution which we must make to Commonwealth development; and morally, because I believe we shall succeed in this task and retain our self-respect and the self-respect of other nations only if we utilise to the full all the complicated machinery of modern science, and do so with a mind and purpose inspired by the healthy virtues so richly possessed and so fully and fruitfully exercised by our forefathers.
Here, then, is a twin challenge worthy of a great nation. But may I add that I am confident that the British people will measure up to it. For I see the vision 14 which Ralph Waldo Emerson saw; I see Britain as he saw her:In her old age, not decrepit but young, and still daring to believe in her power of-endurance and expansion.
§ 3.3 p.m.
§ Mr. C. R. Attlee (Walthamstow, West)
It was indeed an historic occasion this morning when we attended to hear Her Majesty's Speech from the Throne, and the hon. and gallant Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Major Anstruther-Gray), who moved the loyal Address spoke, I thought, in very fitting terms and expressed what we all feel about this Speech from a young Queen at the beginning of what we all hope will be a long, happy and prosperous reign.
I have the pleasant duty of congratulating the hon. and gallant Gentleman who moved the Address and the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. H. A. Price), who seconded it, on their speeches. I have heard a great many in my time. Theirs is a difficult task, and I think we all agree that both hon. Members discharged it very well.
The hon. and gallant Member for Berwick and East Lothian introduced that touch of humour which we always like. I was very much interested in his acknowledgment of the benefits in the past, and the benefits which he hoped for the future, for Scotland from this Government, but I was a little surprised that he did not mention those extra Ministers in the benefits which they have received. I thought he trod with great skill in certain matters, and particularly in the fulfilment of Government promises. I may be wrong, but I had an idea that the Chancellor of the Exchequer made a famous speech on food subsidies somewhere up in that region.
The hon. Member for Lewisham, West also discharged his duty in the accustomed tradition. He is a new Member, whereas the hon. and gallant Member is a veteran who has been with us for a very long time, and we never had any fear that he might become tongue tied.
I noticed that neither speech alluded very much to the Gracious Speech. I am not surprised. In truth, there is not very much in it, and I notice throughout the Gracious Speech an extreme reticence about what the Government are actually going to do. There are very many 15 allusions in which the Government are "considering" matters.The supply of electricity in Scotland is being attentively examined.There is a very curious comment about leasehold property in England and Wales and Scotland—that the Governmentseek an opportunity of making known their policy on this subject.But this is the opportunity. I always understood that the Gracious Speech was an outline of the policy of the Government of the day. Looking through the Gracious Speech it is very difficult to judge what the Government propose to do.Further measures will be promoted,they say, but that only relates to certain subjects and does not say what they are going to do. It struck me that perhaps the reason for this rather curious form of words about leasehold property was that the mattter might still be a subject of some acute controversy. It rather looked like a formula for saying, "We have not yet made up our minds."
In the portion of the speech dealing with foreign affairs, as the hon. and gallant Gentleman said, there was nothing very new. We all welcome the Commonwealth meeting; we have had a very large number of meetings of Commonwealth Prime Ministers and other Ministers in the years since the war, and they are all to the good. I think it would be good, also, if there were a meeting on Commonwealth defence, because that matter impinges on economic policy as well.
I note the passage on the unity of Europe. I am glad to see that the Government have very largely come down to taking the same line as that which the Labour Government took. There was a time when it looked as though the Prime Minister was going to be, so to speak, stroke of the European boat, but he is now only offering a few helpful suggestions from the towpath. In this matter we used to be accused of dragging our feet, but the proposal which has been put forward by the Foreign Secretary is very much in tine with the view which we have always taken on the question of European unity; that is, that we are willing to give it all the assistance we can, but we cannot be solely a European power.
16 I notice the absence of any reference to Persia. That subject figured quite largely in the last Gracious Speech. It looks as if there had been second thoughts again there. I should like a little further explanation of what is being done with regard to Latin America. We are all for strengtheningthe long-standing ties of friendship and of mutual trade,but we should like to know just what will actually be done.
Then, on defence, the general proposition is, of course, unexceptionable. We have to consider defence in relation to our economic position. We should like to be told in the debate something more of what is actually being done in the sphere of re-armament. We know there has been a retardation. We have been told of certain technical changes and one thing and another, but we do not know very much about what is actually being done. What is the position of the programme?
We should also like to know what is happening in connection with the Mediterranean and the Middle East Commands. Those were to have been settled a long time ago. We do not know much of that. Defence, of course, has always to be considered in relation to foreign policy. Our defence forces have to be considered in relation to our commitments. I hope, therefore, that on one day of the debate we may have some discussion both of foreign affairs and defence.
There are some difficult questions at the present time in the colonial sphere. Some of my colleagues will hope to raise those matters. Perhaps it may be convenient next Friday.
I should like now to turn to what is really the major matter that faces this House and the country, and that is our economic position. I notice in the Gracious Speech the words:My Government will proceed resolutely with the task of placing the national economy on a sound foundation. They will not hesitate to take any further steps necessary to hold and improve the more favourable position now reached in our overseas payments.We all hope that will improve, but no one knows better than the Chancellor of the Exchequer that we have had only a temporary alleviation of the position, and this still is the major matter which we have to face. But there is very little said about it in this Speech.
17 I hope that the Government are not complacent with regard to the situation, because there are very, very serious indications today of a worsening of our position. Our production is falling off; our exports have fallen off; there is increasing unemployment; there is very serious unemployment at the docks, and that means a threat of further unemployment. I notice that in last year's Gracious Speech there was the determination to… maintain employment and an increasingly high level of production."—[OFFICIAL REPORT 6th November, 1951; Vol. 493, c. 52.]That was done, in the years since the war, year after year. For the first time we have fallen away from that, and that is a serious matter, because the financial proposals of the Chancellor of the Exchequer were all based on an increase in production.
Then again, there is the cost of living. That featured strongly in the last Gracious Speech. That Speech followed an Election in which that had been stressed. We find the cost of living going up. That, again, is a serious matter, and I do not find any positive suggestions in these proposals for bringing it down. There are general words with regard to encouragingall engaged in agriculture, mining and industry to co-operate in increasing productive capacity …Very good, But there is no general policy indicated here.
There is, indeed, a passage which, I noticed, was cheered by hon. Gentlemen opposite, about reducingthe heavy load of Government expenditure.Well, unnecessary expenditure should be kept down, but I hope that this does not indicate that we are moving into an era of deflation. Inflation is a danger, but deflation is also a danger. In the state of the world today, if we get a number of countries all following a deflationary policy we may easily be heading for a slump. It suggests the old methods of unemployment, low wages, cuts of every kind, which are not a remedy for the situation today.
I think the Government proposals are wholly inadequate, and we shall take the opportunity of moving an Amendment to the Motion for an Address on this general economic problem facing the country, including the cost of living, production, 18 and unemployment—and also the irrelevance of some of the Government's measures.
We have nowre-organisation of the iron and steel industryinstead ofannul the Iron and Steel Act,and, instead ofthe extension of private road haulage activities "—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 6th November, 1951; Vol. 493, c. 52–3.]we havechanges in the transport industry.I do not quite know what is the significance in this change in words.
§ Mr. Attlee
After all, these were the principal Measures mentioned in the last Speech. The hon. and gallant Gentleman who moved the Motion was quite content with that. He seemed to think it was rather a sign of stability, to have them ever there. It may be that these two Measures are to be hardy annuals. After all, one of them was introduced, but, after more than nine months' gestation, nothing very much has appeared. Well, we shall offer to those two Measures, if and when they appear, our resolute opposition.
Meanwhile, I should like to note certain omissions. I should like to know why they are omitted—all promises made in the last Speech, not even glanced at in the present one. What has become of the question of the Supplies and Services (Transitional Powers) Act? That was one of the principal items in the right hon. Gentleman's declarations about "setting the people free." There were masses of regulations of all kinds. We ourselves, when we were in power, had taken in hand the overhauling of the Regulations under the Act. We realised that a great many were hangovers from the war period. But there was some excuse for it when the Government first came in, and they had to review the old and to consider new Regulations, and the Home Secretary exclaimed, "Well, we have not had time to do anything about it." Since then, however, they have had the best part of a year, but so far as we can make out, nothing has been done about it, unless this is one of the "also rans" in the Gracious Speech.
19 Then, what has become of monopolies? That figured in the last Speech. I am sure it was greeted with great enthusiasm by the Liberals. I recall Robert Browning's poem "The Pope and the Net"—of an ecclesiastic who, as a sign of his humility, had a net draped in his abode as a sign that he had begun life only as a fisherman, and who eventually rose to be Pope; and when they came to see him the net had disappeared, and he said to one who asked him where it was,Son, it hath caught the fish.I think that is the Monopolies and Restrictive Practices (Inquiry and Control) Act and the Liberal Party.
There are a number of minor Measures of considerable interest, although not perhaps of first-rate importance, which are indicated, some of them very vaguely. I note that the question of the supply of electricity in Scotland is beingattentively examined.We shall be very interested to know when the Government will seek an opportunity to make known their policy on this subject, but we should feel anxiety if anything were done to hamper or change the good work that is being done by the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Authority, which is much more than an electricity authority; it has been of immense value in developing the Highlands. We will examine carefully any other proposals put forward by the Government.
My complaint against the programme indicated in the Gracious Speech is that it is insufficient to deal with the situation facing this country, and that instead of concentrating on matters that are needed for restoring our economic position the Government are concentrating on two Bills, the effect of which will be to destroy a valuable work of integration going forward, and which are dictated not from the needs of the country but solely by party ideological prejudice.
§ 3.22 p.m.
§ The Prime Minister (Mr. Winston Churchill)
I naturally join with the Leader of the Opposition in the compliments which he has paid, in a long-established custom, to the hon. Members who have proposed and seconded the Address in reply to the Gracious Speech. I am bound to say that I think they both 20 gave us the feeling of having lived fully up to the high standard observed on these occasions and attained, almost without exception, by all three parties in any period which my lengthy recollection can recall. I admit that I do not go back so far as the reign of Queen Victoria in 1837, but at any rate my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Major Anstruther-Gray) may comfort himself that his seconder managed to get through his ordeal with distinction.
Now we have had a speech, as is customary on these occasions, from the Leader of the Opposition, and I can only hope that the moderation and sobriety of his statement will not expose him to any undue risk among his own friends. I am sure I may offer him my congratulations on his being able to address us from those benches as stroke and not, to quote the term he has just used, from the tow-path.
The Gracious Speech refers in several important passages to foreign affairs. I do not propose to deal with these today, except to say that in the main we have hitherto preserved continuity in foreign policy, and I do not know of any new marked disagreement which has arisen between the two main parties up to the present time. We shall all, no doubt, have a clearer view of the whole situation after the result of the election—I mean, of course, the one in the United States—is known. It has now, I understand, been arranged that the debate on Thursday will be devoted to the foreign situation and to defence, and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will take part in the debate before he flies the next day to New York to attend the United Nations' meeting.
I shall, therefore, confine myself this afternoon to the tangles and disputations of the domestic field. Let me, however, say from a business point of view that the debate on the Address will occupy the remainder of the present week and will, it is hoped, be brought to a conclusion in the early part of next week. Under your guidance, Mr. Speaker, we shall endeavour to arrange the debate, whether on Amendments or otherwise, in accordance with the general wish of the House.
We propose that Private Members should enjoy their rights in respect of 21 Bills and Motions in the same manner as last year, including the right to bring in Bills under the Ten Minutes Rule. Perhaps I may now give notice that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will tomorrow propose a Motion naming 20 Fridays on which Private Members' Bills and Motions will have precedence. It is proposed that the first of the Private Members' days should be Friday, 28th November.
No mention has been made in the Speech in regard to various features of legislation which are under consideration. As we move on we shall be able to see our way more clearly on the long pilgrimage through public business. We have made no mention in the Gracious Speech of legislation about the preservation of historic houses, for it has seemed best to confine the Speech to Measures of first importance, but we hope to proceed with a Measure on this subject when time permits. This would apply to some of the other topics to which the Leader of the Opposition has referred.
Compared with this time last year, almost to a day, the Parliamentary situation in the House of Commons gives a definite impression of greater stability. We no longer feel that we are dwelling in the advent of another General Election. Right hon. Gentlemen opposite ought to cheer that; I am anxious to give as much reassurance as I possibly can. The strength and unity of the forces supporting Her Majesty's Government have been proved, and we do not doubt our ability to carry the legislation mentioned in the Gracious Speech, and in particular to pass into law the two important rectifying Measures of transport and steel.
§ The Prime Minister
Part of the process of cleansing the Statute Book is a definite element in any general scheme of rectification. We do not doubt, I say, our ability to carry these Measures, which were leading issues at the General Election, into law. Both these Bills will be presented to the House tomorrow.
One of the complaints made against us is that we ought not to introduce controversial legislation at a time like this, with such a small majority, especially in 22 Coronation year. I wonder what would have been said by the right hon. Gentleman—by the same mouths—if we had not introduced these two Bills. What a howl of broken pledges and broken promises would have gone up. It is quite true that we are keeping our promises, as hon. Members opposite will find out. This is not the sole reason for proposing these Bills. Neither is it true that we are only giving expression to the ideological differences between the free enterprise system, to which we hold, and the foolish, as we deem it, system of Socialism.
These reasons, powerful and valid though they may be, would not give sufficient warrant in themselves for the effort we are making to repeal these Acts of nationalisation. It is only because we believe on the merits that these changes are necessary and will be beneficial to the general and modern economy of our harassed island that we press them forward at the present time.
The story of steel nationalisation since the war must be viewed in its completeness. This was an act of nationalisation which the late Government, with all their power, considered with the greatest misgiving. We know very well the alternative solutions which many of their wisest leaders hankered after. On the other hand, it was evident that it was in the interest of the extreme elements of the right hon. Gentleman's party to force steel nationalisation on the Government and the country, because the frontiers of the steel industry are so undefined, so vaguely defined, that by nationalisation they could break into many other fields, and thus smudge at one stroke the whole page of British industry.
I was looking for the former Minister of Supply, but he seems to be missing at the moment. I venture to quote what he said in moving the Second Reading of the Iron and Steel Bill in 1948. He said:This great reform removes from the private sector of our economy to the public, the industry which is the citadel of British capitalism."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th November, 1948; Vol. 458, c. 78.]He is himself very well circumstanced to defend that citadel from every point of view. [HON. MEMBERS: "Cheap"] We consider that the nationalisation of the steel industry in the circumstances in which it was brought about was a wrongful and needless act of partisan politics. The fact that the final step to bring it 23 into operation was taken at the time of our entry into the Korean War and of the Socialist rearmament policy may well excite curiosity as to whether it was part of a deal in the party to persuade the Left Wing to do their duty by the country.
We had a debate the other day upon this subject of steel, and the Minister of Supply explained in friendly terms why the new Measure for regulating steel ought not to be regarded with hostility by the Labour Party. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) had to turn down his appeal. I am sure that was not due only to its consideration on the merits. It is an illustration of a fact, which will become more evident from day to day, that the leaders of the Front Bench opposite can only hold their position by giving renewed and repeated signs of their extremism, which in their hearts they abhor.
We do not intend to vie with them in partisanship on this issue. The Bill which we are presenting to the House has the purpose of securing the widest opportunity for initiative and enterprise within the industry, coupled with the necessary measure of public supervision in the interests of the nation as a whole, on the lines of the Trades Union Congress report. We are all the more confident in the solution we propose in that it is based upon practical experience over many years and is the next logical step in the constitutional evolution of this primary basic industry.
We hope—hope springs eternal in the human breast, and so, I say, we hope—that whatever differences of political approach there may be, the Bill will at least be judged on both sides of the House by the one primary test, namely, how it will help the iron and steel industry to maintain and further develop its productivity. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] All right, hon. Gentlemen opposite take me at my word. I assure them that if they act up to that principle we shall not fall behind it on this side of the House.
§ The Prime Minister
The right hon. Gentleman should restrain his enthusiasm until he comes to speak on defence.
24 Now I come to transport. No one underrates the difficulties and complications which the present century has brought to every country in the constant adjusting and readjusting of road and rail transport. Since we rose for the Summer Recess, we have given long and continuous study to the many difficult questions that have been opened. When the Bill is published tomorrow, the changes that we have made will be seen. I am sure that prolonged discussion has been beneficial.
Personally, I am always ready to learn, although I do not always like being taught, but I shall not attempt to foreshadow the proposals which will be brought before the House tomorrow. Today it will be sufficient and appropriate to deal with the obvious difficulties and confusion of the situation as we found it on taking office. Everyone must be conscious of the evils which exist and which we inherited—the restriction in one form or another of some nineteen-twentieths of our vehicles for the sake of the 41,000 to be nationalised, the indefinite maintenance of the 25 miles limit, the growth of C licences, which have risen by 339,000 to a total of 826,000 since the Transport Act became law on 1st January, 1948. It is a very remarkable fact that people should prefer to be bound only to carry their own goods, with all the restrictions that that involves, rather than avail themselves of the advantages of nationalised transport.
The failure of the 41,000 vehicles, of which I believe only 35,000 are working at the present time, is certainly not due to any lack of sincerity or zeal on the part of those who operate them. They have tried sincerely to meet the public need, but the mere fact that this enormous expansion in other forms of restricted transport has come into play is surely one which Parliament might, without partisanship, gaze at in thought. We all live in one country, and there is no harm in thinking about a thing like that.
Then there is the millstone round the neck of the railways—the terrible fact of the £300 million or something like that. [Interruption.] I am a very old supporter of the nationalisation of the railways, and hon. Members opposite must take me with my past and all, but I am bound to say that to hang this millstone round the neck of the nationalised railways was 25 a very formidable event. [HON. MEMBERS: "What millstone?"] The £300 million on which interest has to be earned. I am well aware that the party opposite has always adhered to the principle of compensation. That was perfectly right, but in choosing the moment which involves this enormous burden, this permanent dead weight hanging round the necks of the railways, they took a very grievous step. It may undoubtedly be that, had they not done so, and had the railways not been nationalised, the shareholders would have had to go home and nurse their grievances and many of their losses. This is what happens under the capitalist system. Now there has been fixed round the necks of the railways, by law, this permanent burden of £300 million.
§ The Prime Minister
On top of all this—[Interruption.] I will not give way yet. [Interruption.] I shall certainly take my time. On top of all this is the number of restrictions on the railways' freedom in the matter of charges, dating from the days when, having swallowed the canals, they were really a monopoly.
§ Mr. Morrison
In connection with compensation to the railways, the Prime Minister has referred to £300 million as a millstone. Will he be kind enough to say what he means by "£300 million" and to what it refers?
§ Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South-East)
Will the Prime Minister take it from me that the price paid to the shareholders was in the region of £1,100 million to £1,200 million and that the annual interest which is payable to the shareholders is between £30 million and £40 million?
§ The Prime Minister
I have not those figures in my notes, but to have to pay £30 million to £40 million a year constitutes a very heavy millstone tied round
§ * See correction, c. 47.26
§ the necks of the British Railways. [Interruption.] I was merely asking at that moment for a glass of water.
§ The Prime Minister
I remember the old days, which were my young or younger days, when the taxation of land values and of unearned increments in land was a foremost principle and a lively element in the programme of the Radical Party to which I then belonged. But what is the situation which presents itself to us today? In those days we had the spectacle of valuable land being kept out of the market until the exact moment for its sale was reached, regardless of the fact that its increased value was due to the exertions of the surrounding community. Then we had the idea that, if those obstructions could be cleared out of the way, free enterprise would bound forward and small people would have a chance to get a home, or to improve their existing homes, and many other things besides. But here at the moment we have the exact opposite.
The problem which now confronts us directly and urgently is that of the £300 million, established by the 1947 Act, and also the development charge. [Interruption.] Before hon. Gentlemen opposite work themselves up into a rage, I would remind them that the 1947 Act was based upon the Report of the Uthwatt Committee of 1942, which was accepted in substance by the Coalition White Paper of 1944. So we are all in it together. I might remind hon. Gentlemen opposite that we are all in quite a lot of things together. The White Paper proposed a once-for-all payment, not strictly speaking compensation, for loss of development value at 1939 prices.
That is the origin of the £300 million to the landowners which is payable under the 1947 Act. The foundation of the 100 per cent. development charge is, no doubt, the 80 per cent. included in the Coalition Government White Paper. Any man, however modest his means—and a very great number of very small owners are involved in this—must pay this very heavy price in addition to the cost of building 27 anything in times when everything is becoming more expensive, although at a definitely less rapid rate than was the case under the previous Administration.
The result of the development charge or betterment charge is that it has become a direct deterrent upon enterprise and production and has brought a lot of it to a standstill. We may ask ourselves, Is that what we want now? If ever there was a subject which might be considered calmly and cooly without partisanship by both parties, who are both concerned in what has been done in the past and are also concerned in what emerges in the future, it is here in this Measure that will come before us this Session.
The logic of the Uthwatt Report may be impeccable, and both parties yielded to it and are involved, but in practice the result has been unhappy. To pay out £300 million next year, as the Act requires, would put money into the pocket of many who have no intention of ever exercising development rights and who suffered no loss. The ordinary small landowner also does not understand the theory that he must buy back potential development rights. The process is unenforceable except by the drastic use of compulsory powers. Before the end of the month the Government's full proposals on this subject will be presented to the House of Commons, and I trust that they may receive fair consideration in view of the association of both parties for over eight years in this extremely difficult and baffling situation.
I have dealt now with the three principal Measures, steel, transport and the one I have referred to dealing with the development charge under the Town and Country Planning Act. I do not want to keep the House too long. [HON. MEMBERS: "Go on."] Hon. Members opposite are not getting so much out of it as they try to encourage themselves into thinking they are.
I come to the position which we occupied a year ago. When we succeeded hon. Gentlemen opposite a year ago we were moving into bankruptcy and economic ruin at a hideous pace. There is no doubt that any Government called upon to bear the burden would have had to take prompt and severe measures, many of which would have been unpopular, in order to avert the disaster 28 which was imminent. Hence the General Election.
The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition the other day derided us for saying that we are doing our best. He said if that were true it was the strongest argument for turning us out. The justice and even the decency of such a remark can only be judged in relation to the facts. A year ago we were certainly in a crisis of the first magnitude. Our taxation, especially on wealth, was and still is the highest in the world. Our reserves drained by the war have been spent with lavish hands, and many schemes of social welfare have been set on foot which increase normally and almost irresistibly every year. The fall in the purchasing power of money, or in other words the rise in the cost of living, was increasing rapidly. [HON. MEMBERS: "And still is."] It is still increasing, but not so rapidly.
On the top of all this was this new re-armament programme, which, in principle, we supported, and which had been launched and was getting into its stride. We had to face, on taking over, not only a gigantic expenditure, but many formidable increases which have not reached fruition but have become inevitable.
No one pretends that we have yet mastered that problem. We have warded off imminent catastrophe by many painful measures, and we are strengthening our margin of safety. On the whole, no one can doubt our position is better, actually and relatively, than it was a year ago. We always said we could be saved, but that several years of resolute policy and steady administration would be needed.
We should also remember that during the first five years of Socialist rule £2,000 million of sterling was received mainly from the United States of America in loans or gifts. At £400 million this more than equalled the loss we suffered in the early part of the war in income from foreign investments. We have had none of this since we took office, except the earmarked payment to aid our rearmament programme. It ill becomes those who after six years of power, power unequalled by any Government in this country in time of peace, and who are responsible in no small measure for the evils and dangers by which we are surrounded, to mock us when we say we are doing our best.
29 As a result of the measures we took, the United Kingdom recovered so far that in the first half of this year we achieved a small surplus, even before counting the defence aid received from the United States. Further, as a result of the Conference of Commonwealth Finance Ministers held in January, the position of the sterling area as a whole has also improved, and we confidently expect it to balance with the outside world in this second half of 1952.
Since the end of June the monthly figures of our gold and dollar reserves have also shown improvement. We must not judge, of course, by a single month's figures, but it is true that the October results published today are the best since April, 1951. Hon. and right hon. Members opposite must not look gloomy when a thing like that comes along. They should rejoice as we rejoice, even though, as I have said, a single month's returns cannot be taken as a criterion or indication.
These encouraging results are merely signs that we are able to enjoy what the Chancellor of the Exchequer has rightly called a breathing space in our task of putting our overseas finances on to safer and sounder foundations. It is not enough merely to balance our accounts and so pay our way. We have debts to repay, and the future holds many risks and many unknowable factors. The only way to provide for all this is, of course, to expand our overseas trade by an all out effort to increase our exports. It will be the Government's primary endeavour not only to keep this objective before the country, but to foster the conditions under which it can be most easily and swiftly achieved.
Naturally, we are disappointed at the decline in production, which the Leader of the Opposition also deplores. The shortage of steel has been having a restrictive effect, but the steel is coming along, and we are looking forward to an increase in our production of steel. The prospect for the textile and clothing industries appears to be improved, and we hope to see an increase in output and employment. Unemployment in those industries is already tending to fall, and elsewhere it remains very low. The total unemployment remains below 2 per cent. of the vast number of persons employed.
There are also signs of a more mobile state in our economy. One welcome 30 sign is the flow of manpower to the mines. Another sign, equally welcome, in view of our need to divert exports to dollar markets, is the recent increase in our exports to Canada. Our economy has been able to adapt itself to the stresses and strains of outside influence, in spite of the fact that these adjustments take time. We believe that events will show, both externally in our trade balance and internally in our domestic production, that our policy has been justified. That more might have been done is a field in which there may be argument, but at any rate we have tried our best, and we have so far made definite and indisputable progress.
Her Majesty's Government attach the greatest importance to the Conference of Commonwealth Prime Ministers which will open in London at the end of this month. It has not been called, like so many others in recent years, to examine immediate steps for escaping from a crisis already upon us. Indeed, since the meeting of Commonwealth Finance Ministers in January, things appear to have improved. The object now is to try to chart a course to a more secure future in which recurring crises will not occur.
That is the end which we all seek, and as a means to that end we shall survey the economic and financial problems which are common to all our several countries, and shall consider any possible steps which will strengthen Sterling and help us to move towards the goal, accepted by the Commonwealth Finance Ministers, of a world in which trade will be free to move unhampered by the controls and arrangements which at present restrict it.
The Government look forward keenly to welcoming our Commonwealth colleagues in London—not the Government only, but all parties—and to discussing with them these issues, which are of such great importance to every citizen of every country and to the Commonwealth as a whole, and to the great part which the British Commonwealth of Nations has yet to play in the wider world outside.
§ 4.4 p.m.
§ Mr. David Logan (Liverpool, Scotland Division)
This has been a most historic day in my lifetime. I am not in agreement with the idea that there is a parallel between the times of Elizabeth I and Her Gracious Majesty of today. Had I been 31 living in the reign of Elizabeth I, I would have been in the Tower, but living in the reign of Her Most Gracious Majesty and in the first year of her new Parliament, I have the right—I will not say that I have the audacity—to speak and say how I feel.
Compliments are unusual in this House, but I compliment the Minister of Education on having the courage to bring forward an amending Education Bill. There may be views adverse to mine. When I first came to this House 23 years ago, my object was, and is now, to better the condition of the voluntary schools. It had been a lifetime study before I came into this House, and it will be a great pleasure to me when the Bill is introduced. I hope that it will be non-controversial.
The destiny of every party depends upon the way in which we deal with this important subject. There is not only the financial aspect of governing the country; there is the spiritual side. Any Government able to give equality and fair citizenship to people of every faith in this land will be truly doing their duty. I do not claim the indulgence of the House, but I claim the right, as one who has given service to the country and made sacrifices in his family, to equal citizenship from any Government that may be in power.
I believe that 1952 will be a critical testing time in the destiny of this land. From the trend of things, I am convinced that the spiritual side of our national life requires attention. I am not concerned about any who may begin to think that I am becoming fanatical about religion. I am aware of the great struggle made by the masses to make the contributions which are essential to maintaining a higher standard of education and giving the children in our voluntary schools their opportunity. I do not suppose that I shall speak very much longer in this House after this year, but I feel it is necessary, in view of some of the statements I hear and some of the ideas that seem so frequent in the new philosophies, that the old philosophy ought to be taken into account. It is fundamental that we should have teachers and schools able to impart the knowledge of God and His teachings.
32 Because of that, I compliment the Government on their determination to bring in the Bill. I cannot give them all the praise for it, because the Bill was formulated by the Labour Party nearly two years ago. Had the Labour Party had the courage at that time to take action, the Bill would have been an agreed Measure. We are truly thankful for things that come along, and we hope that something good may result.
It will be necessary for all party differences and sectarian strife to disappear, and for all of us to agree that the right of every citizen to worship God in his own way and to preserve the schools to which he belongs is part of the British Constitution. I am not teaching any new doctrine, and I am glad that the Minister is anxious to redress the grievances from which not only Catholics, but Jews and others, have suffered under the voluntary school system.
I had the privilege of being introduced to Her Majesty at the commencement of her reign, as representing the Catholic laity of this country. It was a privilege that I was proud to accept, and it is in that spirit I am speaking today, not in any spirit of animosity. However, it was marked that neither my right hon. Friend nor the Prime Minister mentioned this amending Bill, yet it goes deeper into the hearts of our people than some of the Measures we are likely to discuss in the near future. The co-operation of all sides of the House is anxiously asked for and waited for by many thousands, indeed millions, in this land, and because in the reign of Her Gracious Majesty Queen Elizabeth II we can give to English people those rights which every citizen in the land expects, I hope this Bill will receive early consideration.
§ 4.11 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Slater (Sedgefield)
The Prime Minister referred today to the denationalisation of transport and steel. It is apparent to those of us who listened to that speech, knowing the attitude of the Tory Party in regard to those two industries, that the Government have been influenced by the pressure brought to bear from vested interests. These days we do not hear the Government talking about de-nationalisation of the mining industry. It is obvious to those attached to that industry that if ever the Government talked about de-nationalising it, 33 they would be severely condemned all over the country.
I regret that in the Gracious Speech there is no reference to safety in the mines. Since 1911 the industry has been operating under an Act concerned with safety operations. Those attached to the industry believe that the time has arrived when serious consideration ought to be given to amending that Act and also the Orders which have been introduced in regard to safety measures. I hope, therefore, that the Government will consider such legislation, since the people inside the industry are very much concerned about this matter.
Remarkable progress has been made in all fields of our industrial production since the end of the war, but it is imperative that the rate of progress must be maintained if our standard of living is to be improved. The Gracious Speech states that the Government:will encourage all engaged in agriculture, mining and industry to co-operate in increasing productive efficiency and thus to produce at lower cost the goods needed at home and by the export trades.It also states that a steadily increasing number of houses will be built under the Government's programme. We have heard so much about the building of the 300,000 houses since this Government came into power. Well, it was my privilege to visit one of the new towns in my constituency and to inspect one of these new-type houses, and I was depressed at what I saw being built. It is a tragedy that a Government could sink so low in cutting down the standard of houses for which people are asked to pay high rents.
I want to draw attention also to a matter which has caused great concern in my constituency. In the Ferry Hill area of Durham County, there are quite a number of the one-bedroom type house. The question of their improvement has been considered by the Sedgefield R.D.C. and by the management of the No. 4 Area of the National Coal Board and everyone has agreed that something ought to be done. As far back as 1950 the secretary of the Dean and Chapter Miners' Lodge wrote to my right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens), who was then Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power, for his assistance in this respect. The officials of the lodge were concerned at the overcrowding 34 which existed then and which still exists today.
My right hon. Friend contacted the chairman of the No. 4 Area of the N.C.B. on this question, who replied that to carry out the scheme proposed would involve a cost to the No. 4 Area of £60,000. In their opinion, it was too large for them to meet without some form of assistance. Representations were made to the Ministry of Health, then responsible for housing, to see if they could qualify for grant subsidy under the Housing Act, 1949. The reply was to the effect that grant could not be given unless the houses involved were free from all restrictions in the tenancy, which is not the case in regard to colliery houses. As the Member for that constituency, I consider that the conditions prevailing in that part of the area are wrong, especially when everyone has agreed that something ought to be done.
Since we must have miners to produce the coal in order to improve our economic position, it is vital that more houses should be erected to attract men into the industry. I am grateful for the efforts put forward in this direction, because the miners in my constituency have received reasonable consideration. At the moment 200 houses are being erected at Fishburne Colliery and 200 more are expected to be built at Chilton Buildings in the future. However, these will not ease the position of families living at Dean Bank Ferry Hill, because the houses under construction and to be built will cater for men working at those particular collieries who are having to travel from the western part of the county to their work. In addition, there are the men living with their families in the one-bedroom type house who work at the Dean and Chapter Colliery, which is one of the largest in the No. 4 Area group and employs 3,000 men and boys.
I want to emphasise as strongly as possible that the miners at this colliery are very much concerned. These men are asked to do everything they possibly can to increase production, and they endeavour to do so to the best of their ability, and yet nothing is done to give them that little comfort of which they are most desirous. As the Member for their constituency, I say that that is not good enough. I know these people, and have lived among them for the greater part of 35 my life. They are just as desirous as any other section of the community to see this country of ours out of its economic difficulties.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Neal), when Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power, visited the area and saw this property for himself. I think he would agree that what is being ask for could easily be done, because the structure of the property is very good. The Northern Area of the National Coal Board have carried out a lot of repairs and renewals since they took over, but it would be very enlightening to have the figures published, because this would reveal the depreciation that had been allowed to accumulate prior to nationalisation of the industry.
If my information is correct, the amount expended in 1950 for repairs and renewals by the Durham Divisional Coal Board, for houses of all types, reached £400,000. It may be said that this is a lot of money to spend in one year on repairing property. Let it never be forgotten, however, that but for the neglect of the past, such expenditure would not have been required. I may be told that in 1950 the losses on houses in the Durham area reached a figure of £203,478 and that the total for Great Britain was £768,814. The simple answer is that we are bound to have losses if we are to retain bad property. But these one-bedroom type of houses are in very good condition, and the very fact of building another bedroom, instead of involving a loss, would prove a good investment for the country.
We claim—I think, rightly—that since nationalisation the people in the mining industry have been working for good employers. They are grateful for what has been done. I am one of those who hope that the good relationship will continue, but I appeal to the Government to see whether some financial assistance cannot be given to meet the position which I have endeavoured to emphasise.
When everything is taken into consideration, the miner spends one-third of his life underground. At the end of his day's shift he is feeling very tired, and it is now more essential than ever that he should be able to have his rest so that he may be able to carry on when called upon to produce the coal that the nation needs.
36 Having spent over 30 years "down below," I know what is involved in seeking to extract from mother earth this great commodity of which the nation is at present in need. I put it to the Government: What chance have these men to do that which is requested in the Gracious Speech if they cannot have, or are not afforded, proper rest, when whole families—this is happening now—sleep in the one bedroom? In such conditions, the miner's chances are very poor indeed, which makes it all the more important that whatever influences can be brought to bear to provide this extra accommodation for which I am asking, should be exerted so that these men are able to be fit for the work which they are called upon to do.
It is no use the Government traversing the country and propagating what they have been able to do and to achieve if they turn a blind eye to what could be done in an Act of Parliament to give reasonable accommodation to these people, who, because of the nature of their employment, are compelled through circumstances to take over these colliery houses of the National Coal Board when other facilities are not afforded to them.
I hope, therefore, that the Minister of Fuel and Power will consult his colleague the Minister of Housing regarding this problem and will see whether some financial assistance cannot be afforded, even today, for the National Coal Board to bring up to a reasonable standard these houses in which the miners, because of the terms of their employment in this basic industry, are compelled to live.
§ 4.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Lee (Newton)
I should like to address myself to the paragraph in the Gracious Speech which deals with productivity. I notice that the Speech says:My Ministers will encourage all engaged in agriculture, mining and industry to co-operate in increasing productive efficiency and thus to produce at lower cost the goods needed at home and by the export trades.I believe that the recent disclosures of the levels at which productivity is now running, reveal that far from there being any reason for complacency, in which the Front Bench opposite now seem to indulge, because of a balance having been achieved in our overseas position, we are now in a far worse position economically 37 than at any period since the Government took office.
We know that there has been a more favourable turn in the terms of trade. I do not know at what level the Government place it, but I would estimate that at present it is an advantage to the Government of at least £250 million; I should like the appropriate Minister to confirm or to contradict this figure. But merely to take encouragement or to become complacent because those terms of trade, plus a drastic cut in imports, have now given a favourable balance in our overseas positions, is to invite disaster.
In the last analysis, this country will survive with a good standard of living for all on the basis of what we are able to produce from the whole of our industries. When we see that for the first time since the end of the war production is now lagging badly, there is cause for the gravest apprehension, no matter on which side of the House we may sit.
Much of this retarding of production must be traced to the disastrous policy laid down by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his Budget last March. The right hon. Gentleman phrased it as being a Budget to encourage industry. Obviously, from the figures now available, he has failed completely in his endeavours so to encourage industry as to achieve more production from those engaged in it.
When we read in the Gracious Speech that the Government are asking for co-operation from the workers in order to achieve higher levels of production, one must say to the Government that they themselves, because of their disastrous policy of deliberately causing the cost of living to rise, have caused the trade unions, whose desire is to co-operate no matter which Government are in power, to demand higher rates of pay for their members; and then the Government have rather cynically told them that if they were to achieve those higher rates of pay it would mean bankruptcy for the country.
On Thursday last, at Question time, I asked the Chancellor of the Exchequerfrom which industries he plans to obtain the increased production necessary to secure the 3 per cent. extra output upon which he based his Budget.The Minister of State for Economic Affairs, who replied, told us that the Chancellor had said last March that we 38 had a difficult task to increase our exports and to increase our production. He also said, I think most significantly, that if our exports did not increase,we would be faced with lower production and more unemployment than any of us would wish to see.He went on:At it turns out our export prospects have worsened since March and it now appears unlikely that production will rise as had been hoped."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 30th October. 1952; Vol. 505, c. 2116.]In other words, the right hon. Gentleman told us that the Chancellor's Budget was an utter and complete failure. He told us that the very basis that the Chancellor had laid down, namely, an increase in exports and an increase in production, as the only pillars by which we could retain full employment had gone and, therefore, we must now face the prospect of a considerable worsening in the employment levels we have enjoyed since the end of the war.
I should like the Government, quite apart from taking advantage of altered terms of trade, to tell us in the course of these debates what it is they plan to do to bring back the high production levels which, when we were in office, we managed to achieve in so many of our basic industries. So far, the Gracious Speech reveals nothing. The Government merely tell us that they hope for co-operation while, as I affirm, they themselves have been responsible for breaking down the finest co-operation between Government and industry that this country has ever seen.
I have said that the Government themselves are responsible for the rise in the cost of living. The Chancellor told us a week or so ago that the £ had fallen 1s. 3d. in value during this year. I recall the way in which the Prime Minister, when he was Leader of the Opposition, described the fall in the value of the £ as "the money cheat." I remember that at that time the £, according to the statements of the Chancellor, was worth at least 1s. 3d. more than it is at present. Yet we have just had the right hon. Gentleman telling us of the improved economic position achieved by his Ministers in the course of the last year. We should love to hear how he would describe the present position, with the £ rapidly losing value as distinct from the days when he called it "the money cheat," 39 if he could now address the House from the Opposition side instead of the Government Front Bench.
In those days, especially from the start of the Korean war, we know full well that the rise in world prices was responsible for a great deal of our economic difficulties. We tried, by the use of subsidies for food, and so on, to cushion the housewife from the effects of the rise in world prices. What we must now drive home is that the Government are deliberately causing the cost of living to rise in Britain at the very time when world prices are more favourable to us than they have been at any time in the last two or three years.
They are asking the people to agree to put up with restrictions and privations, with a reduction in their real standard of life, at a time when all the indications are that with a mere continuation of the policies of the Labour Government the £ could increase in strength because of the decreased amount we have to pay for imports and all in this country could enjoy a higher standard of life than was achieved in 1950–51.
I put it to the Government that no matter how production has now decreased they have soured the whole attitude of industry. They have caused men who had come to the conclusion that full employment would last as long as their working lives to doubt whether the Government are sincere in their desire to retain full employment. That doubt has resulted in people having to hold back a little.
There is the point of the lack of supply of steel, and so on. I should have thought that the Prime Minister, after having won an Election by telling us that bulk purchase was a horrible thing for the country, and, after the Election, going to the United States and becoming the biggest bulk purchaser history has ever known by purchasing one million tons of steel, would know that once he has planted that seed of doubt in the minds of the workers it was utterly impossible for them to give of their best, even if supplies were there.
Some of them, many of them—indeed, all over 40 years of age—have known what it has meant to work up to an unemployment queue. I believe that the greatest crime the Government have, committed 40 is in bringing about again, or seeking to bring about again, a policy which, to many people, is closely allied to the days when we knew bankers' control instead of real control by the Government.
I hope that during the course of these debates the Government will explain precisely how they propose to bring back confidence to the people in industry and to assure them that the first consideration of the Government will be to increase the standard of life of our people. I hope that they can show to the people—as the incidence of taxation in the last Budget beyond any doubt was swung more heavily upon the lower paid people and many millions of pounds were deliberately handed over to those with the largest incomes—that that sort of thing is now recognised as being disastrous.
I hope that the Chancellor, having seen that his Budget has failed dismally on that basis, will now change to the policy which was so successful during the days when the late Sir Stafford Cripps and my right hon. Friend the last Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Labour Government carried out a policy of trying to plan our economy and the distribution of wealth in favour of those who have the lowest standard of life.
To me, it has been rather remarkable to watch what has been happening in the Ministry of Labour. As the House knows, I had some responsibility in the Ministry of Labour in the last Government. When the present Minister of Labour was forced, some months ago, to refuse to agree to sign certain wage advances which wage councils had agreed upon, I was fairly sure that that took place not by any means because of his inclinations. When, later, we found that it was because of the speech which the Chancellor of the Exchequer had made in which he asked for restrictions in wage increases, and so on, we saw the real reason. I do not believe that it was even to stop 1,500,000 lower paid workers from getting a few shillings a week extra.
The real reason it was done was to prejudice and condition the minds of the engineering employers and to condition the minds of the National Coal Board and those employers who were faced with demands for large wage increases in other basic industries in Britain. That was why it was done. Now we have seen that, as far as engineering 41 is concerned at any rate, there has been a recantation.
We can well imagine what has happened. I can imagine the engineering employers, for instance, when approached by the Ministry of Labour and asked whether they would reconsider their flat refusal to give any advance asking the Minister, "Who really speaks for the Government anyway? The Chancellor of the Exchequer tells us that we will be serving the best interests of our country if we refuse to give any wage advances, but now the Minister comes forward and asks, 'Will you not reconsider that and make an offer to keep things open?'." I am convinced that the interview which the Minister probably had with the Prime Minister, in which he made it clear that his position was completely untenable unless the Chancellor of the Exchequer was forced to come off his wage freeze, would make admirable reading, if hon. Members could obtain copies of what was said at that time.
I do not wish to exaggerate or to exacerbate the position in industry now, but I am sure that the uneasiness which has crept into industry could well bring about the greatest industrial catastrophe since 1926 unless this Government amend their policy. I do not believe that any sector of industry wants strikes and unrest. The record of the British working people since the end of the war is a fitting one to compare with the great and heroic deeds which the same people did at the time of Dunkirk.
Starting from a basis of smashed factories and of raw material supplies not being available, the rise in the levels of production which they achieved was something of which everyone proud of the name of Britain should think upon for the rest of his days with admiration. It was a wonderful achievement. The people are just the same today. There is no deliberate holding back, but the seed of fear implanted in their minds by the Chancellor is now causing them to wonder whether they can make that sort of effort again or whether, if they did, it would mean them again taking their position in the unemployment queue.
No matter how we try to argue around the economic position which we face, feel that all of us would agree that no matter how we adjust our financial 42 policies this great nation will not remain great much longer unless we get the maximum possible productivity from our industries. Upon that there can be surely no difference of opinion. But we then arrive at the question of how we are to achieve that.
I know that I am on the Opposition benches, but I feel that if I were sitting behind the Chancellor I would still tell him that his policies have now been proved to be wrong. The Minister of State for Economic Affairs could not have enjoyed giving the answer which he gave last Thursday, when he showed that the very props upon which the Budget was based had been completely swept away. When he had to agree that the increase upon which the whole Budget was based was completely unattainable, he showed, in fact that the economic and financial policies of this Government had proved to be a complete and utter fallacy.
It is no use arguing in a vacuum. What do the Government propose to put in the place of those policies? I said that the trade unions are not opposed to policies merely because they come from a Conservative Government, nor do I think the Front Bench opposite would claim that they were. I know from my contacts that those in industry are as worried about the fall in production as Ministers must be. I hope that even now the Chancellor and the economic Ministers will appreciate that if they wish to get the production for which they ask in the Gracious Speech it is necessary that they should understand the factors which are now retarding the giving of the desired production among the trade unions and people in industry.
Many of us are now recalling some of the speeches to which we used to listen, and some of the articles we read by eminent industrialists, indeed by some right hon. Gentlemen who are now Members of the Government, in which they appeared to argue that a certain level of unemployment was necessary. I see the Minister of Labour on the Government Front Bench, and I say at once that I would be extremely happy to trust him with the destinies of this country so far as full employment is concerned. He has earned our high regard and gratitude for his manner in the House, and for his high principles. But 43 when we still see in this Government Members who, at one time, used to write articles about the necessity for there being some unemployment before full production could be achieved, there we have the real secret of why the trade unions cannot trust them very far.
I hope that during the debate on the Address the Chancellor or the Secretary of State for Economic Affairs will tell us that the Government realise the folly of an increased Bank rate which restricts small industry because, with the figures of the increasing bankruptcies that have now been produced, even hon. Members opposite who have an obligation to many of these small industrialists must be wondering how far they can go in support of the Chancellor in a policy of that kind.
In Lancashire, we have seen a textile slump and we have seen small businesses not connected with textiles ruined because of a lack of purchasing power brought about by the textile slump. We have known instances of small industrialists wanting to borrow £1,000 or so to keep their business alive and who have not been able to find any bank willing to lend the required sum because of the restrictive policies of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
So long as that goes on, I submit to the Government that they cannot expect complete co-operation either from the workers in industry or from small business men who see their policies as meaning the ruin of the industries which they have built up, maybe over a lifetime and perhaps at some sacrifice.
I hope that the Government will now see that rather than rest upon what may be a short-lived, favourable term in the terms of trade, rather than merely make political capital out of the fact that we now have a balance in our overseas trade, they will realise that there can be no health in a great industrial nation when the production charts are showing a decline. That is especially so in the world as we see it now. In a world in which the great industrial power of Germany is coming back into competition with us, and in which Japan again, aided by the United States of America, is resurrecting its industry, we must expect more severe competition than we have had at any period since the end of the war.
44 In such an atmosphere, it is necessary that the Government should impress on the trade unions and the millions of workers that their policy, which has been shown so far to have been creating a false economy, a policy which has restricted production, will be thrown over, and that they will now agree that the economic expansion for which the Labour Government were responsible, which brought production levels to a higher point than this nation has ever seen before, is the only basis upon which greatness can be retained.
With the skill which our workers possess, and with the great inventiveness, the great creative genius of the British people, the people will respond if given the right kind of lead. I put it to the Government that the reason why we now face a decrease in our productive levels is because they, and not industry, have dismally failed in their job of giving a clear lead to the British people along the path which had been followed by the previous Government. They should now attempt to secure real, constructive economic resurrection instead of a temporary policy based on a transitional turn in the terms of trade.
If they will now change those policies, I am sure that the trade union leaders can appeal to their people to attain again the production of two years ago. If that appeal can be made wholeheartedly by the trade union leaders, I am certain that the production charts, instead of showing a turn downwards, will turn upwards, to the increase of happiness, decency, security and the standards of life of everybody in the country.
§ 4.50 p.m.
§ Mr. J. N. Browne (Glasgow, Govan)
I am sure the whole House has listened with interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Newton (Mr. Lee), who speaks with such vigour and knowledge on a subject on which he is so well informed; and when he was not indulging in wishful thinking, I am sure we agreed with very much that he had to say. He said that we on this side of the House were complacent, but that is not true, and he knows it. He talked of implanting in the minds of the workers a seed of fear of unemployment. Surely he realises that what he is doing is watering the pot in the hope that the seed will be there. Many such speeches in this House are made purely for party political purposes.
§ Mr. Lee
I quoted the reply I received on Thursday last from the Minister of State for Economic Affairs, in which he laid down the basis upon which the Chancellor told us we could retain the level of employment. He went on to say that that basis had not turned out right. In other words, the only hope of retaining full employment had gone, because we had failed to keep to the basis on which the Chancellor framed his Budget. The Minister said that, not I.
§ Mr. Browne
I agree with the hon. Gentleman, but I have a greater faith in British production, British enterprise and the British worker than he has.
I wish to move to another point, which is the mechanics of the Welfare State. Today we have three interlocking Ministries, the Ministry of Labour, the Ministry of National Insurance and the National Assistance Board. The Ministry of Labour offices are today issuing funds from the Ministry of National Insurance and extended benefit from the Exchequer, and are dealing with people who—or very many of them—must also go to the National Assistance Board. The Ministry of National Insurance offices on the other hand are handing out funds from their own Ministry and supplementing a very large number of people who have then to run round to the National Assistance Board for the rest of that to which they are entitled.
The National Assistance Board, the third office, is the buffer between the Welfare State and need. It is a reflection on the Welfare State today that 1½ million people are drawing money from the National Assistance Board for some 2 million people. So it is understandable that people should feel a sense of frustration in having three offices dealing with their lives. I want the Government—and we have raised this point before—to think about whether we can merge these functions in some way.
We could, for example, remove one serious difficulty in this country, namely, the stigma of the National Assistance Board. If the Ministry of Labour could deal with their N.A.B. cases, it would help to eliminate that small but difficult class, the professional beggars who are with us all the time in the Welfare State. [HON. MEMBERS: "Who do you 46 mean?"] Those people drawing National Assistance and who ought not to be doing so.
§ Mr. William Keenan (Liverpool, Kirkdale)
Those who do not work, and there are more of them than are on the Assistance Board.
§ Mr. Browne
As an example of the sort of difficulty which would be avoided, some old age pensioners are getting an extra half-crown, the receipt of which was back-dated, through the National Assistance Board. The old people say, "We were getting a half-crown from the National Assistance Board, and it is taken from us and put on to our pensions." They do not realise that the kindly action of the Government, in increasing the old age pension through the National Assistance Board, until the pension books could be reprinted, was very much in their interest. They feel instead that a half-crown had been given to them and taken away from them. That would not have happened if there had been one office instead of two.
I want to raise a point on the whole principle of the Welfare State. It can be said that the insurance principle may have broken down. With 2 million people on the N.A.B., it is a thought. By 1956 the present rates will be being subsidised by the taxpayer; and by 1976 if the present rates only are maintained, the taxpayer will be paying half of the amount necessary to pay the retirement pensions. It is open to question whether mutual insurance has been successful at all. The oldest scheme is in Sweden and it is 40 years old. It gives inadequate pensions, subject to a means test, and 79 per cent. is borne by the taxpayer.
Whatever happens, we should send out from this House at least one message, that we will not let the old people down. But we should send out another to all young people, that is, people under 50. We should sound a note of warning to those people who are working today, and who are 40 or under, that when they come to retire there will be between three and four people working for each one of their pensions; and in order that the pension may be received at its present level, either the stamps will have to be doubled or the taxpayer will have to pay £400 million.
47 I am sure that a solution will be found. Now is not the right time to suggest a solution, but one point is sticking out a mile and cannot be too much emphasised—that, in the full knowledge of the cost of living, people of 40 or under should start saving now.
§ Mr. Browne
It is nonsense to say that the Welfare State has done away with the need for thrift. It is absolutely essential that everyone should realise that, though the Welfare State may have brought security, and freedom from need, and freedom from fear, if we want a comfortable old age we have to start working and saving for it now.
§ The Prime Minister
Mr. Deputy-Speaker, may I ask the leave of the House to make a very brief correction of a mistake which I made in my speech?
I fear that, inadvertently, by a clerical error in my notes, I misled the House on the subject of the financial burden—the millstone I called it—round the neck of the railways. I said it was £300 million. I was wrong. Actually it is three times as much, £900 million. This was the value of the transport stock given in exchange for their former shares by the late Government to the railway stock-holders. On this the railways have to pay nearly £30 million a year in guaranteed interest. My argument remains the same, though the figure on which it rests should be £900 million instead of £300 million.
I am much indebted to the House for their indulgence.
§ Mr. H. Morrison
May I say that I was mystified, as I intimated, because I did not remember the figure of £300 million either in capital compensation or as annual charges, and that was why I asked the right hon. Gentleman what was meant. Of course, we have sought to be fair and equitable about compensation. I hope the right hon. Gentleman does not think that we ought to have been somewhat confiscatory. I should not think so, but one never knows.
§ Mr. Morrison
I follow my hon. Friend entirely, but I could not follow the right 48 hon. Gentleman. I am sure the House is obliged to the Prime Minister for having given us an explanation and for having frankly admitted that he had himself made a mistake.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis (West Ham, North)
I listened with some dismay this afternoon to the speech of the Prime Minister when he referred to the Gracious Speech. There have been very many occasions in this House when the Prime Minister has been really brilliant. But I think that today even his own back-benchers were very disappointed indeed with the effort he made; particularly in regard to the implementation of the promises made by the Government in their first 12 months of office. In actual fact, we know when we go around the country that the people are really dismayed at the absolute indifference of this Government to the carrying out of the promises they made, which were the main reasons for their being returned to power.
I refer particularly to the false promises they made during the last Election on the subject of bringing down the cost of living. I can well remember seeing those huge posters some 16 feet long, bearing a picture of a woman's shopping basket and a caption to the effect that the Tory Government or the Tory Party would bring down the cost of living. I also remember the false promises that were made particularly with regard to bringing down food prices.
Yet the Government were not in office five minutes before they rapidly increased the prices of the basic foodstuffs of the people of this country, which action was quickly followed by that dangerous and pernicious Budget whereby, quite deliberately, the Chancellor of the Exchequer betrayed the written word and the declared public promises made by the leaders of the Conservative Party at the Election, when they said they would not interfere with the food subsidies.
The position is fast being reached in this country generally, and more particularly in the areas where those who work by hand or brain are congregated, in which there are many families which are not able to afford the basic rationed foodstuffs. It is true that the Tories promised 49 at the last Election that they would introduce as quickly as possible schemes for de-rationing. It is true that they have, in fact, stopped some of the rationing by the ration book method, but they are now rapidly introducing the system of rationing by price.
I was very interested to hear the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Newton (Mr. Lee), because he dealt with the all important passage of the Gracious Speech which deals with the need for increased production. I think we can all agree that that is vitally necessary at the present time, particularly when we realise that, for the first time since 1945, production is rapidly decreasing, and when we find that, because of that, grave unemployment is being caused in different areas of this country.
I cannot understand how the Government can come to this House and, through the medium of the Prime Minister, try to tell the people that they are implementing their promises, when, in actual fact, we know that quite the reverse is the case. We know that, so far as unemployment is concerned, there is a growing degree of unemployment in various areas which is mainly, if not entirely, due to the stupid financial policy which has been adopted by this Government, particularly since the Chancellor of the Exchequer introduced his last Budget.
We know that our exports are rapidly declining. We know that imports have been cut, but I do not think it is realised—particularly by the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. J. N. Browne), who made reference to the question of saving for old age—that, if we take the case of the dockers, if men have been unemployed for three or four months and have been living on £4 a week, it is very difficult to get even the basic rations on which to live, let alone to save for old age.
The tragic fact, which is not mentioned in the Gracious Speech, is that many British working men and women, of whom we are proud—and we on this side of the House are just as proud of them when we are in Opposition as when we were in Government—are unemployed. We do not call them "Weary Willies and Tired Tims," as the Prime Minister used to call them in the past. We do not castigate them; we say that they are the salt of the earth.
50 We say that it is a crying shame that we should have the position in which, in the London Docks in April of this year, there was an average daily unemployment figure of 3,510, which was rising month by month, until, in September, we had reached a figure of 4,738 unemployed on a daily average. Last month, we found that, in the week ended 4th October, there were 5,935 dockers unemployed in the London Docks, and, for the last week for which I have figures, the week ended 18th October, some 5,940 dockers in the London Docks were unemployed.
That only reveals the situation with regard to London, but, in actual fact, when one examines the national figures, one finds that the situation is far worse. We find that the average rate for three weeks of October was 17,219 dockers unemployed throughout this country, against the figure of 5,373 for the same period last year.
Yet the promise that was made by this Government and by the Conservative Party when they were appealing to the country was that they would maintain full employment. I say that it is ridiculous for the Government to come forward with any schemes for housing, or, indeed, with any schemes at all, until they can guarantee full employment to the workers of this country.
I think that one of the greatest, and certainly one of the most tragic, failures of this Government has been their ineptitude in dealing with the unemployment problem of this country, and I am very pleased that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition mentioned this matter in his speech today. Like myself, my right hon. Friend represents an East London consituency, and the people of East London, unfortunately, know only too well of the bitterness, poverty, starvation and misery which they had to experience in the interwar period because of unemployment. They did not want to see those conditions coming back in this country, but, in fact, in the East End of London today, they are already back, as is shown by the figures which I have quoted, revealing that we actually have one in five of our dock workers unemployed.
It is no good going to the workers in industry and telling them—though rightly, I agree—that we have to improve production, improve our productive capacity 51 and our export trade, while, at the same time, we find a growing number of unemployed in the furniture trade, in the pottery industry, in the Lancashire textile industry and, of course, in the docks.
Therefore, I am hoping that, in the next 12 months we shall see some tangible evidence from the Government that they really appreciate that the important problem which is confronting the people of this country at the present time, and the one which they understand and about which they feel most keenly, is that of the rapid rise in the cost of living. Prices are rising much more rapidly than in the 19 other countries mentioned in the E.R.P. Report. The cost of living, including the cost of foodstuffs, is rising rapidly when in fact world prices are in our favour, and in addition to this there is mass unemployment rapidly coming to the docks of this country.
If the Government really want to see progress in this country and want the people to support their efforts, they must at least show some real intention of implementing their promise of bringing down the cost of living. They must right the wrong that they did when they removed the subsidies on foodstuffs, because if any hon. Member looks at the Conservative Party manifesto he will see a declared promise that they would not interfere with subsidies.
The Government, if they want the support of the people, will see that the subsidies are put back, and they will try to help the lower paid worker by attempting to reduce the rapidly rising cost of living. They must also arrest this growing unemployment problem, otherwise I am afraid this Government will not be very long in office. In fact, they will be a Government with one of the shortest periods of office in history, and that will be their just deserts.
§ 5.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Patrick Maitland (Lanark)
I should like to be forgiven for not following the hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Lewis) into the maze of figures which he was able to quote without effort, because I particularly want to draw attention to one passage in the Gracious Speech which relates to a matter on which many workers in this country are looking forward one day to receiving justice.
52 I would draw attention to the passage in the Gracious Speech toward the end which reads as follows:My Ministers will propose an extension of the existing temporary Acts on leasehold property in England and Wales and in Scotland and will seek an opportunity of making known their policy on this subject.That is an allusion to a problem which is widespread throughout Great Britain and which also concerns certain parts of Scotland, including a part of my own constituency, in which workers have approximately 90 years ago leased land on which, with their own hands, to build their own houses. Here was a constructive effort which we would applaud if it was repeated today. But it was a gesture of confidence in the future which may well prove to have been mistaken if in some quarters certain landlords are allowed, as has sometimes been the case, to hold up these people to ransom once their 99-year leases are at an end and threaten them with eviction or the exaction of a heavy payment.
It was suggested by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition that there was something perhaps amiss in the Government's intention only to "seek an opportunity" to make their policy known.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
Is the hon. Gentleman alleging that the landlords of Scotland are holding the tenants up to ransom?
§ Mr. Maitland
I am much obliged for that intervention. In a particular case in Stonehouse in my constituency, which was reported to the Guthrie Committee on Scottish Leaseholds by the Stonehouse Leaseholders' Association, that indeed was the case.
§ Mr. Maitland
I am bound to say that offhand I do not remember who the landlord was. However, it is easy to check from the Report which, no doubt, is well known to the hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Maitland
The essential point is not whether this or that landlord happens to have been the villain of the piece, but whether in the reasonably near future proper measures will be taken to protect 53 those who have, as it were, mortgaged the future and built their own houses on property which they have leased.
The delay which is envisaged in making the Government's policy known would seem to me to be wise—and I believe that I am here speaking for the Stonehouse leaseholders, at any rate. Immediately after the Report on Scottish Leasehold was published I made contact with the Stonehouse Leaseholders' Association, whose first reaction was, "Let us have a breathing space in which to think about it." I believe that the Government's intention to delay awhile and to ponder the conclusions of that Committee's Report will, indeed, be welcome, coupled as it is with the pledge that the existing standstill arrangement will be continued for a sufficient time.
There is a facet of the drafting of this passage in the Gracious Speech to which I should like to draw particular attention. The passage reads:… an extension of the existing temporary Acts on leasehold property in England and Wales and in Scotland.The insertion of the preposition "in" before "Scotland" implies a distinction between Scotland, on the one hand, and England and Wales on the other. That is, no doubt, a tribute to the fact that Scottish law is in many respects divergent from English law, and that we have in Scotland a system of land tenure known as a feu, which is not unlike—to use a rough and ready but, as it were, unlegal comparison—a kind of permanent leasehold. The particular conditions that pertain in Scotland, and in Lanarkshire especially, I submit, demand special consideration, and therefore I for one welcome the terms in which this passage of the Gracious Speech has been drafted.
The Report which we have recently received from the Scottish Leasehold Committee has in many quarters received a reasonably warm welcome. The Committee has stated categorically that leaseholders of the kind to whom I am referring should acquire a right by statute to be able to convert their leases into what we in Scotland call a feu. That is welcomed, and it is all the more welcome in that it is proposed by a committee which may be described as bipartisan—
§ Mr. Janner
I am not quite clear what the hon. Gentleman is saying. Is he now 54 saying that this is what the Government propose to do, or is he saying that this is what he would like them to do?
§ Mr. Maitland
I am much obliged for the hon. Member's question. Even as an impetuous newcomer I am not so bold as to announce from the back benches what the Government will announce from the Front Bench.
I should like at this stage, however, to say how far I should like the Government to go, and to repeat the views of my constituents. We welcome the suggestion, in the Leasehold Committee's Report, that there should be a right to convert to feu. There is a desire which, on a preliminary examination and subject to correction, with all that that will imply to reasonable gentlemen who look at the matter wisely and reflectively, I believe to be arguable. I am impressed by the suggestion that my constituents have made, that in calculating the grassum that should be paid in order to convert to feu, the notion would be that of a sitting tenancy and not of vacant possession. Those, however, are matters which should properly occupy the reflective attention of the Government and their advisers. I am merely drawing attention to a matter on which my constituents are greatly concerned and on which it would be perfectly absurd to pass hasty or premature judgment.
§ Mr. Maitland
Because premature and hasty judgment is very often unwise judgment. In this connection, what we seek is not only a wise solution but a just one.
§ 5.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
I am very disappointed at the completely inadequate references to Africa in the Gracious Speech. I do not want to make party capital out of that because the topic is too fundamental and involves very serious matters not only for the Africans but for populations in very much further places. In that great continent there are grave problems now urgently awaiting solution. Blood is being shed and disaffection spread and yet the only references in the Gracious Speech are almost casual in character, lacking in definiteness and, above all, lacking in urgency.
55 There are only two references to colonial affairs. The first is:My Ministers are determined to make ever closer that co-operation with the other Members of the Commonwealth and with the Colonial Empire which must be the keystone of our policy.The second is:Further consideration will be given to the draft scheme for federation in Central Africa. For this purpose My Government have invited the three Central African Governments to a further conference in London in January.I invite the attention of the House to the topics involved in these two brief and casual references, and I will ask the Government some questions arising out of them.
First, in regard to Kenya, why did not the Government make closer co-operation at an earlier date? Why did they wait until bloodshed had occurred? Secondly, why did not the Government ascertain the people's grievances and take steps to satisfy them, thereby avoiding the bloodshed which has occurred? Thirdly, what are the Government now doing to restore peace and security in Kenya, what result do they expect from their efforts and when do they expect to have some tangible result?
With regard to Central African federation also, I would ask them certain questions. I do so in no vein of hostility to the idea of Central African federation, because I am in favour of it. In fact, I do so because it would be a very good thing for the territories involved to clear up certain matters which were raised in the debate upon this subject last March. First, what has the Government done since that debate to satisfy African opinion, both black and white, that federation would be a good thing? African opinion of all shades must be satisfied about it.
Secondly, what assurances have the Government given to the Africans, black and white, upon the four questions which were put to the appropriate Minister in the debate last March and which, up to the present, remain unanswered, except in a very general way? The four questions are these: What assurance has been given that federation does not mean amalgamation? What assurance has been given that Protectorate status in Nyasaland and Northern Rhodesia will in no way be prejudiced? What assurance has 56 been given that the people's land tenure will not be prejudiced and, lastly, what assurance has been given that the political opportunities of Africans will be enhanced?
The Government are in a very strong position in this matter. It is very easy for them to give assurances upon these topics and they should do so now in order to ensure the success of the forthcoming conference on these problems. The present situation in the whole vast continent of Africa will be affected by the answers to these questions. The Government's decision on them will provide a key, a guide and an exemplar to black and white people throughout the whole of Africa and the whole of the world.
Decision and action in Central Africa and Kenya are therefore urgent. Failure in either of these territories and in either of the topics involved would be disastrous to British prestige in Africa and the rest of the world; and it would be disastrous to the relations between black and white people not only in Africa but throughout the world.
So far as Kenya is concerned, there must be a full and complete examination of the grievances of its people, with a view to seeing that they are redressed. With regard to Central Africa, the advantages of the federation of the three territories involved—Rhodesia, North and South, and Nyasaland—should be clearly demonstrated to all the people in those three territories, in order to gain their free and full approval to federation which is, in my view, undoubtedly in their interest, But it is not I who have to be satisfied; it is not this House who have to be satisfied. It is the people of Africa, who will be involved in federation, who have to be satisfied.
That is why, at the earliest moment, I have sought an opportunity to discuss these problems—I hope in a non-partisan way—so that justice, peace and Commonwealth prestige can be preserved. The problems are too fundamental to be embroiled in party politics. As I have said, they affect not only Central Africa but the whole of Africa; not only Africa, but the whole British Commonwealth of Nations—and not only the British Commonwealth of Nations, but the whole of the inter-racial relations between coloured peoples throughout the world. The problem is rendered more acute in those three 57 territories because they are of unequal degrees of constitutional development.
The idea of Central African federation is excellent, and, if implemented, can solve many problems. It can strengthen, politically, economically and socially, the ties not only between the territories, but between peoples of all colours of skin throughout the world. But it can do much more. It can clear the inter-racial atmosphere everywhere. It can act as an exemplar to all races in a vast Continent. It can ameliorate relations between black and white. It can make for inter-racial confidence and friendship throughout the world and in that way can encourage and consolidate civilisation.
On the other hand, if there is a failure in Kenya and in Central African federation, the results will be disastrous to the relations between the various coloured races. I hope, therefore, that all right hon. and hon. Members of the House will consider these problems free from partisan bias and free from party considerations, and will realise that these problems are not merely African problems but are problems to which the noblest and most constructive ideas of which we are capable should be applied.
Central Africa is only a part, but a very large part, of Africa. In other parts of Africa and of the world, the British colonising genius has met with success, and that success has been continued in constitutional development from Colony to Dominion, from minor to major constitutional status. I see no adequate reason why that success and advancement should not continue in Central Africa, as it is continuing elsewhere, in developing representative institutions for the economic, political and social benefit of the various Central African peoples involved and the territories which they respectively occupy.
Present-day developments and present-day events demand that this should be continued. Though conditions may differ, the doctrines of federation continue. Less than a hundred years have elapsed since the federation of Canada in 1867, of Australia in 1900 and of the Union of South Africa in 1909. Less than ten years have elapsed since India, Pakistan and Ceylon gained their own representative institutions. All these have continued in constitutional development to the advantage of their territories and their inhabitants, and they are now autonomous 58 communities in the British Commonwealth of Nations, equal in status, in no way subordinate one to another in any aspect of their domestic or external relations. I see no reason why the Central African federation should not proceed, from the federation which is now envisaged, ultimately to Dominion status.
While we are considering the federation of the three territories, it is worth while to remember the success which has been achieved by aggregate communities elsewhere. I have referred to the federation of Canada and to the federation of Australia. These are successes which may be exemplars to Central Africa so that it may press on to federation and ultimately, I hope, to Dominion status.
The first step in this matter was taken by the Labour Government's Secretary of State. I do not want to make a party issue of it, but I would say this: the present Secretary of State for the Colonies very fairly said in the debate last March:… we should not forget that it was the two right hon. Gentlemen who now face me who took the initial steps on the road towards federation after, as the right hon. Gentleman said, it had been a matter of discussion for many years."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 4th March, 1952; Vol. 497, c. 228.]That was a well-deserved tribute by the present Secretary of State to the former Secretary of State for the Colonies and the former Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations.
I hope that this great, useful and noble idea will now be carried forward to success with the concurrence of all parties, including the Africans, because, as the present Secretary of State has said, we are not disagreeing on it as a principle. Indeed, both Secretaries of State agreed upon the principle of federation. Notwithstanding the tenuous reference to Africa in the Gracious Speech, I hope that the House will not regard it in a casual way, but will have regard to the great and planetary problems which are involved, and I hope that the Government will give the House an opportunity of considering it at greater length.
§ 5.38 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Wentworth Schofield (Rochdale)
I do not want to follow the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes) but to speak upon a subject which, I hope, will be considered at the 59 meeting of the Commonwealth Ministers—the subject of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, more commonly referred to as G.A.T.T.
From time to time the question of G.A.T.T. has been raised in the House and many hon. Members have expressed the conviction that membership of G.A.T.T. is detrimental not only to the interests of this country but to the interests of the Commonwealth as a whole. I must confess that the more I examine the question myself, the more convinced am I that, at any rate in its present form, G.A.T.T. is more of a handicap than a blessing to this country.
Ever since we became members of G.A.T.T., I have wondered into what kind of a club we have entered and whether the entrance fee we have paid was too high in agreeing, as we did, to forgo the right to protect inter-Commonwealth trade by any further adjustments of Imperial Preference. For a time, most people who study these things were willing to wait and see how it would work out, but during recent months there have been many expressions of doubt, and there is plenty of evidence to show that those doubts are now growing, particularly among that section of the business community which has to do with international trade.
Whereas two or even three years ago, those self-same people were willing to give G.A.T.T. a chance, many of them feel today that the benefits which we are likely to receive will be more than offset by the disabilities which we are certain to reap.
If we made a bad bargain when we agreed to become parties to that agreement why, it may be asked, have the business community of this country been so passive in their acceptance of its conditions? I submit that one very good reason was the fantastic conditions of trade which have been enjoyed during the post-war period. In a world starved of manufactured goods—brought about by six years of war—these easy conditions of trade have been quite sufficient to camouflage the disabilities of G.A.T.T., and it is only today, when conditions are changing from a comfortable sellers' market to a hard, discriminating, buyers' market, that the disadvantages of G.A.T.T. really begin to show themselves.
60 Another thing that has focused attention on G.A.T.T. is the recent application by the Japanese to become members. Earlier in the year this House agreed to the ratification of the Japanese Peace Treaty, and at that time fears were expressed on both sides about the possible re-emergence of Japanese competition and the steps which this country might and should take to meet that competition.
One question which was asked was the attitude of the Government regarding the granting of most-favoured-nation rights to Japan, and the House was assured by the President of the Board of Trade that, although at present we were actually extending most-favoured-nation treatment to Japan, there was no obligation under the Treaty to do so, nor would we allow ourselves to be bound to do so.
One of the main Articles of G.A.T.T. stipulates that all contracting parties shall be granted most-favoured-nation treatment, and although it is possible in certain circumstances to withhold most-favoured-nation treatment to a new entrant, as Japan hopes to be, nevertheless, I submit that if Japan is admitted into membership of G.A.T.T. it will be very difficult indeed for the United Kingdom to maintain the spirit of G.A.T.T. and, at the same time, to deny most-favoured-nation treatment to Japan.
Anyone who has bad experience of Japanese methods between the wars knows, or should know, that if she cannot get what she wants one way she is almost certain to try to get it another way, and it is quite evident that what she failed to get under the Peace Treaty she now seeks to get by obtaining membership of G.A.T.T.
But if Japan is admitted into G.A.T.T. not only will she be entitled to enjoy the minimum rates of duty in all the 34 member countries of that Agreement, but she will also be entitled to the benefit of the tariff concessions granted at Geneva in 1947, at Annecy in 1949, and, more recently, at Torquay in 1951, for what is of far greater importance than all that is this, that if she is admitted it will prevent this country and all the other member countries from taking defensive tariff measures against Japanese goods. Under such conditions Japan would be able to enlarge her exporting industries; by the exploitation of her low standards 61 of living and her vast and rapidly increasing population she would be able to undersell all other countries. Indeed, we can go so far as to say that the only thing that is stopping Japan at the present time from rapidly expanding her exporting industries is her own difficulty which she is having with currency.
By reason of the situation in China, Japan has lost the largest of her traditional markets. Because of that Japan is showing an increasing interest in our own Dominion and colonial markets. While Imperial Preference was working not only did it enable us steadily to expand our trade within the Empire, but it also prevented any further expansion of Japanese and United States trade within the Empire.
It is because many of us remember the great benefits which we derived from Imperial Preference that many believe that even today our best chance of salvation lies in an extension of Imperial Preference and also in closer economic ties with the Commonwealth—and I believe that many in the Commonwealth share that view, because, after all, Japan is not a large buyer of colonial goods But as long as we are held in the stranglehold of G.A.T.T. we shall be unable to make any further protective adjustments of Imperial Preference. Our hands are tied, and we cannot move.
The argument is constantly advanced, that because of the cheapness of Japanese goods the British Colonies should be allowed to import them. That is the same argument that has been advanced over the past century to the British people. It is the same argument which led to the origination of the Congo Basin Treaties 100 years ago, treaties which, ever since, have prevented discriminatory duties from being levied on imports into vast regions of Eastern and Central Africa, and which, over the last quarter of a century, have benefited Japan and the Japanese far more than they have ever benefited the natives of colonial Africa.
After the First World War and throughout the 'twenties the same argument was advanced, that no restrictions should be placed against the cheap German goods with which Germany was flooding our Colonies at that time, and it was only when it began to dawn on us that the policy being followed had put 62 two million British workers on the dole, that it was suddenly discovered that a system of tariffs and imperial preference could put things right.
In the past we have seen these same sorts of things before. We have seen the benefits which Imperial Preference can bestow, and because of that I submit that not only should we oppose the admission of Japan into G.A.T.T., but we should also consider very carefully indeed our own position in G.A.T.T. in its present conditions, to see whether we ourselves can afford to remain in membership.
§ 5.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Edward Short (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central)
I wish to deal with two points only. The first is that oft repeated Tory claim that when they came into office last year the cupboard was bare; the claim that they could not keep all the rash promises they made because the cupboard was bare. The Prime Minister developed the same theme today when he said that he took over a bankrupt concern. In one of his more colourful moments he said we were standing on a trapdoor. I want to have a look at the inheritance of the present Tory Administration.
First of all, the gold and dollar reserves when the Labour Government came into office in 1945 stood at £610 million. When the Labour Government went out of office in October of last year the gold and dollar reserves stood at £1,267 million. In other words, the gold and dollar reserve which was handed over by the Labour Government was more than twice the size of the reserve they took over.
§ Mr. Short
That point seems to have reached the mark. After one year of Tory management the reserve is at the low level of £600 million again. This problem of the balance of payments is the fundamental problem, and the problem with which the Labour Government had to deal and the problem with which the Tory Government have to deal. I want to look at the inheritance that the Labour Government had and then that the Tory Government had, to see the 63 different weapons with which the different Administrations had to tackle that problem.
First of all, the Tory Government took over a labour force which was five million greater than the labour force taken over by the Labour Government. It is often forgotten now that when the Labour Government came into office the war was still on. That is not starting from scratch: it is starting farther back than scratch. There were five million men still in the Forces, and those five million men are now in the factories, fields and pits. The balance of payments problem is not solved here in the House of Commons; it is solved in the pits, factories and fields, and to start off with the Government have got a labour force five million more than the labour force which the Labour Government had in their first years.
The figure for industrial production last October, when this Administration took office, was 21 per cent. higher than in 1948, taking that as the base year. Today it is 2 per cent. higher. That was their inheritance of industrial production, and that is what they have done with it. Coal output last October was 08 per cent. per man-shift higher than in 1938. It is now only 01 per cent. higher per man-shift. That is their inheritance in coal production, and that is what they have done with it; they have reduced it considerably.
What about exports? This is perhaps the most important figure of all in helping to close the gap. Exports are 70 per cent. up on 1938 and 70 per cent. up on 1945. That again is their inheritance. What have they done with it? The export figure is dropping every month. That is how they have dealt with that inheritance. Then again, what about the number of factories? We are told that the wasteful Labour Government, the wasteful Socialist Administration, poured all the money that was paid in taxes by the nation down the drain. Factories have a tremendous relevance to solving the balance of payments problem, and last October there were 5,489 more factories in existence than there were in 1945 with which to solve the problem. That was the Government's inheritance.
Another factor which is extremely important is that the Tory Administration 64 took over a nation which was fitter than it has ever been before. I come from Tyneside, and my division is a cesspool of tuberculosis. We know quite well what a bearing that has on industrial production. The Government took over a nation fitter than it had ever been before, and when I said that in this House a short time ago somebody shouted out that it was due to the doctors and not to my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan). Of course, it is due to the doctors; but that is because the Labour Government removed a barrier between the doctors and the people—the barrier of the doctor's bill. The party opposite voted against the introduction of the National Health Service at every stage; they opposed it in this House, and let that not be forgotten by the nation.
§ Mr. Short
The Government took over gold and dollars to a figure twice as large as the balance taken over by the Labour Government, and it is because they have got that balance in hand that they have the element of time in which to balance their books. It is thanks to the last Chancellor of the Exchequer, who built up this balance throughout the whole of 1950 and in the early months of 1951, that they have the element of time necessary to solve the problem, and let us not forget it.
They also inherited 1,500,000 new houses and 630,000 more school places. I said I wanted to make only two points, and that brings me to my second point. I believe that the question of school places has a profound bearing on the solution of our economic problems. If we go to the old Book, the Bible, we read in the parable of the talents that some people are born into the world with 10, some with five, some with one, and some unfortunately with none.
§ Mr. Short
Well, I said that; but the fact remains, and I am sure the hon. Gentleman will accept it. Looking round the House he cannot help accepting it. People are born into the world with varying degrees of ability, but we are 50 million people living on a small island with only our coal, our skill and our ability to pay our way. Those are the only things we have in abundance, and it 65 would be criminal if at this time, when we are up against it economically, we allowed any latent ability in our people to go undeveloped.
When I was a boy I lived in an agricultural village, and the local grammar school was filled with wooden-headed farmers' sons who paid fees. I am not suggesting that all farmers' sons are wooden-headed, but the school was full of fee-paying students while really able children in the village had no opportunity of going to the grammar school. That has all been changed, but it would be a crime if we allowed any latent ability in our children to go undeveloped, because it is only by taking our native skill and genius and developing it to the highest possible degree that we can hope to compete with other nations.
What have the Tory Government done? In Newcastle-upon-Tyne there are over 6,000 children being taught in classes of more than 50, and this Government have specifically excluded any schoolbuilding to alleviate overcrowding. Let me repeat that, and let it be understood. The Tory Government have specifically excluded any schoolbuilding to alleviate overcrowding. What is the position about schoolbuilding? I will give the House one figure, if I may. In the first quarter of 1951, 20,546 new projects were approved. In the first quarter of 1952, 2,398 projects were approved for schoolbuilding. In other words, they reduced schoolbuilding to one-tenth, and I suggest that is a criminal thing to do when the country is up against it in the economic field.
The Minister of Housing and Local Government tells us that the few extra houses he has built have not been at the expense of school building. There is a regular pilgrimage to Whitehall of deputations from almost every county asking for more schools. Only three weeks ago I read in the Tyneside Press an interview with the Director of Education for the County of Northumberland, who said:Unless we get more schools to build this year, in two years' time the schools of Northumberland will be working on a double shift system.That is happening not only in Northumberland but all over the country. That is the way the Tory Government are treating the children of the nation. Apart 66 from the moral aspect, there is the economic aspect in allowing ability to go undeveloped—for that is what it amounts to.
There is a second side to this. We can only compete with other nations if we take our native ability and skill and develop it, but we must also have modern up-to-date factories. We must be able to compensate for our lack of raw materials and our lack of manpower by increased efficiency, but we can only have increased efficiency if we have more efficient people and more efficient factories. What has happened to factory building? In the first quarter of 1951 22,577 projects were approved. In the first quarter of 1952 there were 11,800 projects aproved. In other words, the Tory Government had cut down factory building by one half.
§ Mr. Short
I am sorry that I cannot give way, but I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will get the opportunity to make a speech. I may say that all the figures I have given have been taken from the Monthly Digest of Statistics for September. The hon. Gentleman can check them all.
I am glad to see present the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. If the Minister of Housing and Local Government says that he has built these few extra houses without cutting down factory building and school building, that is just not true.
§ Mr. Short
School building has been cut down to one-tenth and factory building has been cut down by one-half. These are my two points. I have shown the Tory inheritance, and I have shown how this Administration has frittered it away. All that the Government have done so far, and proposed to do in the Gracious Speech, is to undo the vast work of reconstruction which has been undertaken since the war. I should like the country to take note that, if the Government are not got rid of in the very near future, they will lead the country back into the grim, protracted stagnation of the inter-war Tory era.
§ 6.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Johnson (Manchester, Blackley)
Reference was made in the Gracious Speech to the need to produce more goods needed at home at lower cost and to measures to meet inflation. These are the most effective ways in which we can help the retirement pensioners to whose needs my hon. Friend the Member for Govan (Mr. J. N. Browne) made some reference. I think that to help them is something that we all want to do on both sides of the House.
It is difficult to decide what is the best way to do it. I think that it is a matter for some regret that no special mention was made in the Gracious Speech of their particular needs. Hon. Members will no doubt recall the estimate given by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer that we were spending on the average 8s. of every £ of our income on food and 12s. on other goods and services such as were commonly used. I think that everyone would agree that that is so.
Nor, I think, is there any dispute about the fact that, in order to compensate those who were hit hardest by the higher cost of food, concessions and increases were made in the social services, including increases in the retirement pension. It is also true that some 16 million people have benefited by various amounts through the Income Tax concessions. The point that I want to make is that the 8s. in the £ spent on food is the average amount spent, and the lower the income, the greater the proportion of that income which will have to be spent on food and the less income there will be available for other goods.
It follows, therefore, that those who are living or who are trying to live on a retirement pension will benefit less by the lower prices for other articles and goods besides food, nor will they benefit except in very few cases by the Income Tax concessions. For that reason, I think that some special effort must be made to help them. It is well known on both sides of the House that we have an ageing population and that the cost of retirement pensions is rising very rapidly year by year. The cost is estimated at about £350 million in the year 1953–54, rising to some £700 million in 25 years' time.
It would seem, therefore, that figures such as these rule out the possibility of 68 increasing the basic rate of pension, except by a great increase in the contributions or by paying for it through a great increase in general taxation, or by cutting down some other part of the social services, or, as may well have to be done, by changing our whole structure of the social services when the time comes for reviewing them, and changing the whole method of payment.
On this question of increasing the retirement pension at the expense of some other part of the social services, I have always thought that it might have been desirable if we had done rather more to help the retirement pensioners and rather less in the way of increasing family allowances. I suppose that the argument against that was that, whereas the figure of £37 million which was the cost of increasing the family allowances this year would be more or less a static figure and would not increase year by year, and, indeed, it might fall, if we had given a basic increase to pensioners of the same amount, that figure would have doubled itself in 25 years.
Nevertheless, in the family which draws the family allowance, there will almost certainly be some members of the family going out to work and receiving wages or salary. I believe that in most of those cases, although not in all, they do at least have the chance of earning more, either by working longer or harder or by promotion in due course. They have the chance of getting more, while, on the other hand, the retirement pensioner has not that chance. He is not allowed to increase his extra earnings above £2 a week without a reduction being made from his pension.
It seems to me that here is a way in which we may perhaps give a little help to some pensioners without any cost to the Exchequer. If we were, for example, to increase the amount they can earn without deduction from their pensions from £2 to £3, I believe that would be most desirable. I should like to see the earnings rule abolished altogether. I know that hon. Members on both sides of the House may not agree with me on this, but I should like the pension to revert to the old age pension once more, which was received by virtue of reaching a certain age, and whatever else the pensioner could earn in addition—well, good luck to the pensioner, and let him keep what he could earn.
69 I realise that that suggestion may not meet with general approval, and I know, too, that the more modest proposal for increasing the extra earnings from £2 to £3 has been put forward more than once and has been rejected by my right hon. Friend the Minister of National Insurance. One reason which he gave for rejecting it was that he believed that such a concession would discourage pensioners from postponing retirement. With all respect to my right hon. Friend, I do not altogether agree with him. I do not believe that the man who wants to go on working and who is fit and able to get a job after 65 will be deterred from doing so by a small concession of that kind. I think that if he were able to go on doing at 66 the job which he was doing at 64, or if he had the offer of another steady job, he would much sooner take it than try to supplement his retirement pension by small casual earnings.
There are two other small points which, I think, support my contention. The first is that the work done in order to earn £3 instead of £2 a week is presumably work of some value, which would be done by some one or other—young or old. It is obviously work which can be done by a person who is past retirement age, so why not encourage him to do it and thereby release younger men for more strenuous work. I believe many older people would feel well able to do a little more casual work which would supplement their income, although they might not feel fit and able to continue regular employment.
If pensioners were allowed to earn a little more without its being deducted from their pension, would it not in some cases save them from having recourse to National Assistance? From talking to them, I am sure that the great majority would much prefer to earn a little more for themselves in this way if they could instead of having to go to the National Assistance Board for help. Rightly or wrongly, there is still a very widespread dislike of asking for help in that way. Thus, if pensioners could earn more without deduction from their pensions, this would not only cost the Exchequer nothing but might reduce the cost of National Assistance.
I realise that this would by no means help all the pensioners, but surely it is worth while trying to help some of them. 70 I hope that in due course the Government will give further consideration to the proposal.
§ 6.11 p.m.
§ Mr. William Keenan (Liverpool, Kirkdale)
The Gracious Speech does not contain much that even some Government supporters expected. I propose to deal with one or two of the speeches which have been made and to supplement some of what has already been stated.
The hon. Member for Blackley (Mr. E. Johnson) apparently has a great deal of sympathy with the aged, and he gave expression to it when the National Insurance Act was before the House. The hon. Member for Govan (Mr. J. N. Browne) dealt with the same point from an altogether different angle, suggesting that the time had arrived when we could no longer afford to pension anybody at 65. The hon. Member for Blackley spoke of encouraging the pensioner to continue earning after reaching 65, which is laudable, but what is the good of that today when we cannot even find work for hundreds of thousands of our people?
That is the problem today, and it is no use our suggesting that these old people, whom we begrudge a reasonable pension after they have spent 40 or 50 years in the service of the country, should continue to work. The Gracious Speech says:In the interests of the employment and the standard of living of My people, My Government will persevere with measures to curb inflation and to reduce the heavy load of Government expenditure.Had the last two speakers from the Government side of the House in mind that we ought to curtail Government expenditure and reduce the social services by reducing the pensions or making the old people wait longer than they have done before qualifying for pensions? It was certainly suggested that we might be able to save some of the money that we now pay out in National Assistance. In spite of what was said earlier in the debate, today very few individuals have the opportunity of making provision for their old age. It is wishful thinking to expect that people living these days, or in the future that we can visualise, should be able to save anything.
The figures which have been quoted of the unemployment position in the London docks must have alarmed some 71 hon. Members. They surprised me because they did not seem to be as heavy as they are in Liverpool. In the last few weeks nearly 25 per cent. of the registered dock labourers in Liverpool have not been able to get work. Some 4,000 or 5,000 of them have to depend upon a wage of £4 8s. a week. Because that figure is larger than the unemployment pay it is suggested that they are better off than workers in some other industries. That has been stated in the Press. It ought to be emphasised that many of those men have been drawing pay at that rate for nine or 10 weeks and that they actually draw only £4 1s. and a few coppers because the cost of their National Insurance stamps has to be deducted.
The National Assistance Board cannot supplement wages, so those men cannot seek assistance, but the unemployed in the industry can obtain National Assistance if the circumstances warrant it. Many dock workers are having a very lean time, and many are taking any opportunity which presents itself of leaving the industry. If we run into trouble again, we may have in the docks a position similar to that which we had in the textile industry recently. I am told that more than 2,000 men in the Liverpool shipping pool are also out of work. How does this square up with the Government's protestations of their being in favour of full employment?
When they meet the representatives of the Commonwealth, the Government must do better than they did some months ago. No effort seemed to be made by the Government to persuade the Commonwealth to do something about imports, although in some cases textile imports to the Commonwealth countries had been slashed by 80 per cent. There seemed to be no effort by the Government to induce the Commonwealth countries not to adopt drastic measures which severely affected our economy.
A great deal of play has been made about the fact that we now have about 5 million pensioners, including about 750,000 non-contributory pensioners. Everybody is worried that they are costing the State so much. Some see these people as actually consuming food and other things and doing nothing for it. That leads me to a subject which I wish to 72 put before the House in the hope that the Government may be persuaded to do something about it. I do not expect that they will, but the party on this side of the House must face up to it.
Much has been said and written in recent days about the growing population of the world, and it has been suggested by well intentioned people that this country may have to make a contribution towards the cost of feeding the people of the backward areas. As much as one or two per cent. of the nation's income may have to be earmarked to help the people who are starving, many of whom are rising against the governments in their countries, blaming them for the burden which has lain too long on them.
Something has got to be done about it, and in making a contribution let us take into account the people here who are getting something for nothing from industry. I have tried to estimate the number and the amount, but it is not easy. However, I would say that, while the profit from industry is not as great as the amount which goes in wages, many hundreds of thousands are drawing an income from the wealth and the productivity of this country and are doing practically nothing for it. That cannot go on indefinitely in the world in which we are living, with the changes which are taking place and which are contemplated—changes that we know must come if we are to get the increased productivity which everyone agrees is necessary.
That increased productivity is not going to be easy to get with this Government forcing unemployment upon the nation by their legislation and by other administrative acts, including their financial policy. It is difficult to believe that there can be any increase in productivity when we remember the outlook of the average worker in the days before the war, the harder he worked the sooner he was out of a job. The Labour Government changed all that. They gave them a sense of security, and the workers were willing to pull out in every industry in the land to help the nation to get the increased productivity. This Government are going back on that policy, which is making increased productivity more difficult.
I realise that I have not got unlimited time in which to speak, but there are a 73 few points which I wish to refer to. My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Short) a few moments ago dealt with the question of the building trade. If my hon. Friend had been in the House a few years ago he would have heard me advocating bedrooms before schools. I am prepared to admit, as I said then, that the school population has to be looked after, but, as I understand it, building trade operatives today, in spite of the fact that schools are being sacrificed in the interests of housing, are not engaged in house building to the extent that they might be.
From the figures given in the House last week, it would seem that only 28 per cent. of the building trade operatives, which is about 3 per cent. more than six months previously, were engaged in house building. If those workers are not employed on school building, factories and such useful construction work, as my hon. Friend indicated that they were not by the figures which he quoted, what are they doing? They must be employed building hotels and projects which certainly are not required today as much as schools, factories, hospitals and so on.
There is one further matter to which I want to refer, and that concerns Korea. Those of us who sit on the back benches in this House know how difficult it is to get called in a debate on foreign affairs, and I am hoping that what I say tonight on the subject of the war in Korea will be brought to the notice of the Foreign Secretary so that he can deal with it when he comes to reply on Wednesday or Thursday evening.
We all deplore the fact that the fighting is still going on in Korea and that it has gone on for so long. Why do we not look at the position frankly and face up to the realities of the position? The Government of China have been recognised by this country as the Government of that land, and it is the general consensus of opinion, I think, that if the Government of China were generally recognised an ending to hostilities in Korea would be possible and the war in that country could come to an end.
The previous Administration in this country recognised the Communist Government, and this Government have not opposed that step. However, our friends in America have not done so, and if failure to recognise the Communist regime 74 in China as the Government of that land is the stumbling block to the ending of the war in Korea, surely something can be done about it. Many thousands of our National Service lads are engaged in that fighting along with others in our Regular Army, and we would like to see the fighting over so that our soldiers could come home. If the recognition of China is the way to bring that about, surely it is up to our Government to try to get the Americans to agree to that course.
Hon. Members will know that I have nothing in common with the Chinese people any more than I have with the Russian people. All I am concerned about is the fact that this war in Korea could be ended if the Chinese Government were generally recognised and given its place in the United Nations Organisation, which it is denied today. There is no question but that the present Government in Peking represents the Chinese people. It may be regrettable; we may not like it, but that is the position, and I suggest to the Government the desirability of finding a new line on this matter in order to get something done in the way of recognition. I believe if that were done it would mean the release of the boys of all nations who are fighting there. Let us try it and endeavour to establish real peace in the world.
§ 6.29 p.m.
§ Mr. Beresford Craddock (Spelthorne)
When I listened to the Leader of the Opposition this afternoon I gained the impression that the gravamen of his charge against Her Majesty's Government, and indeed his main criticism of the Gracious Speech, was that it did not foreshadow a great deal of legislation. I should think that was the most commendable feature of the Gracious Speech, because we are suffering today, and have suffered for many years, from far too much legislation.
§ Mr. F. H. Hayman (Falmouth and Camborne)
Will the hon. Gentleman kindly indicate some of the Acts passed which should not have been passed in his opinion?
§ Mr. Craddock
If I began to do that I might keep the House for many an hour. I am not blaming the hon. Gentleman's party. It is a feature of modern life which had been going on for a long time. I remember that the Lord Justice 75 Hewart wrote a book in 1929, entitled "The New Despotism," in which he dealt with this very subject. I think everyone would agree that since 1945 the process of legislating has been accelerated far too much. I believe that the country is suffering from legislative indigestion.
§ Mr. Craddock
Then I am in good company with the hon. Member himself.
There is one paragraph in the Gracious Speech which delights me and would satisfy me even if no legislation at all appeared in the Speech. It is this:My Ministers are determined to make ever closer that co-operation with the other Members of the Commonwealth and with the Colonial Empire which must be the keystone of our policy.I believe that the time has come when a tremendous effort must be made to knit as closely as possible this great partnership of nations, and if we do not seize the opportunity now it may be lost for ever.
As I listened to the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Short), I felt that he was hardly fair in his remarks about the inheritance that we took over in regard to the gold and dollar reserves. It is undoubtedly true that when the present Administration took office last November those reserves stood at approximately £1,100 millions. The hon. Gentleman did not point out that those reserves were already at that time dwindling away at the rate of about £150 millions per month, and that if drastic steps had not been taken there would have been nothing left in the kitty by August of this year and we should have been facing national bankruptcy.
I am not going to waste time by trying to apportion blame for that situation. The hon. Gentleman pointed out the great work that had been done since 1945. Every fair-minded person would agree that the Labour Governments from 1945 to 1950 did many good things for the country, but I would ask him to be fair in his assessment of the position and particularly the financial and economic position which we took over in November of last year. If he does that I think he will agree that the courageous measures which the Chancellor of the Exchequer took 76 when we came into office have done a tremendously fine job in stopping the drain on those reserves, and in bringing about a substantial improvement in the balance of payments.
§ Mr. Short
Surely the hon. Gentleman will agree that the large reserves of gold and dollars which had been accumulated during the whole of 1950 and the early months of 1951 enabled the present Chancellor of the Exchequer to close the gap and that the big reserves gave the present Government the element of time.
§ Mr. Craddock
I cannot agree with that. There was a substantial improvement towards the end of 1950, and it tended to continue until the early summer of 1951. Then, suddenly, the drain started. We have never had a proper explanation from the right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Gaitskell) why that sudden drain started. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the present Chancellor of the Exchequer would be the first to admit that the encouraging state of affairs, the improvement that has taken place, has been brought about by a restrictionist policy, by cutting down imports, striving to increase exports at the expense of the home market and cutting down capital expenditure.
§ Mr. Craddock
I cannot entirely appreciate the force of the hon. Gentleman's remark. I am saying that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has been able to effect the present improvement by a restrictionist policy, involving the cutting down of imports and of capital expenditure and depriving the home market of goods in order to stimulate exports.
§ Mr. Craddock
They are decreasing now, and I shall come to that point. I shall not try to get away from it, so please let me continue.
The policy of restriction which my right hon. Friend has of necessity had to follow in the past year cannot go on for very much longer without bringing serious harm to the country. I believe that the time has come when we must 77 switch over and make a determined effort to bring about an expansionist policy. I would like to remind the House of my right hon. Friend's famous slogan "Trade, not aid," because I believe the time has come for that slogan to be translated into definite action and a definite policy.
We all recognise the urgent necessity to increase our exports, but that will not be easy. Some of the aspects of the situation are, to say the least of it, disturbing. Competition is increasing from Japan and will go on increasing. I have figures issued by the Cotton Board at the beginning of September this year in connection with Japanese exports, and they are very enlightening. I would quote from "The Times" of 13th September, 1952:Figures issued by the Cotton Board in its quarterly statistical review disclosed that during the first half of this year Japanese cotton exports totalled 463 million square yards and included 277 million square yards exported to the British Commonwealth. As against this"—that is, the 463 million square yards—British exports totalled 373 million square yards, of which 261,500,000 square yards went to the Commonwealth. Japan also"—in that period—sent 50 million square yards of cotton piece-goods to Britain. The figures relating to rayon piece-goods show that Japan's exports to the Commonwealth during the first half of this year were 128 million square yards, compared with the British total of 51 million square yards.That situation is likely to become worse, so far as we are concerned. For example, I saw in the Press the other day that Japan is to embark on the manufacture of jet aero engines much cheaper than the British counterpart. We shall meet similar and ever-increasing competition from Germany. All the signs are that in a short time Germany will be capturing the motor car trade of the Continent of Europe. That discloses a serious and disturbing situation.
When we turn to the prospects of increasing our trade with the United States in goods and services, I do not find the prospects reassuring. I have in my hand a copy of Lloyds Bank Review for October, 1952, which is sent free of charge to all hon. Members, and I have no doubt that many will be familiar with it. It contains an article written by Dr. August Maffry on the prospects for closing the dollar gap. I need not give all his qualifications. Dr. Maffry joined 78 the Export-Import Bank as Vice-President, was Economic Adviser in the United States Government and at the end of 1947 took up his present position as Vice-President of the Irving Trust Company. On page 5 of this article, under the sub-title "Reducing Trade Barriers" he writes:Not much can be expected by way of further reductions in trade barriers as a means of increasing U.S. imports. As regards reductions in tariffs, under the terms of trade agreements, practically all of the concessions of any importance which might be given to the United Kingdom and Western European countries have already been given under existing agreements.When we turn to the question of invisible earnings, for example the increasing of services to the United States, there is a significant passage in the same article with regard to the possibility of increasing shipping services. On page 8 the report says:Direct subsidies by the U.S. Government to the American merchant marine are a factor.That is written after he has pointed out that the possibility of increasing our services in that way to the United States is remote.
Finally, one other most important and significant fact with regard to the increasing of private investment abroad. On page 9 he writes:The prospects of any great increase in private U.S. investment in foreign countries are not very bright.When we consider these statements by a well-qualified, responsible expert, we have not much encouragement for hoping that the possibility of earning more dollars by exporting either goods or services to the United States of America are very good. While on this point, no doubt hon. Members saw in the financial columns of "The Times" yesterday an article headed "U.S. Concern Over Metal Prices." This article deals with the fall in the price of lead since the control was taken off and is now handled by the London Metal Exchange. It also deals with the possible happenings in that same direction when zinc is handled once more by the London Metal Exchange. Dealing with the question of tariffs, the article states significantly that:Because Australian wool is cheaper than United States domestic wool a move is afoot to increase United States wool tariffs.79 Further on, on the same subject, it states with regard to tariffs:There is also said to be a growing demand from United States lead producers for an increase in the import duty. … Under G.A.T.T. the lead duty was halved from 2⅛c.Now it would appear that the American producers are going to approach the Administration for an increase. If we are—as we must—to expand our trade, then the greatest hope of doing that in my submission lies in an expansion of inter-imperial trade—
§ Mr. Craddock
Not necessarily. In July this year, we had a debate on the economic state of the nation and my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, North (Mr. J. Amery) dealt at length with inter-Imperial trade. I do wish to detain the House by going over his arguments, with which I may say I heartily agree. It will be sufficient to say that we must adopt a policy designed to carry out the following objectives. Firstly, a policy which will produce a more balanced economy at home between agriculture and industry. Secondly, a policy designed to bring about a substantial increase in inter-Imperial trade. Lastly, and probably most important of all for the future long-term policy, one designed to develop the raw material resources of the Empire and the Commonwealth.
This afternoon my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Rochdale (Lieut.-Colonel Schofield) has pointed out the difficulties we are up against in trying to reach those aims. At present we are not free to develop on the lines I have indicated because of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. May I remind hon. Members briefly of the position under that Agreement? Preferences under G.A.T.T. are frozen at existing levels. Preferences once lowered cannot be restored and no new preferences at the moment can be created. We are prevented from raising our tariffs to protect the home market and we are unable to offer to the members of the Commonwealth any advantage in our own markets at the present moment.
§ Mr. Osborne
But does not that apply also to the American wool trade cited a moment or two ago by my hon. Friend?
§ Mr. Craddock
No, because if Congress chooses otherwise, the Americans might as well not be signatories to G.A.T.T. The American manufacturer is free to approach the Administration for an increase in tariffs and it lies within the power of the Administration to grant the request or not. That, of course, is exactly where we are handicapped. In other words, we are not free to carry out our own policy of trade and are absolutely tied down all the time. We have no elasticity. The time has come—and the opportunity should be taken now before we enter the Conference of Empire and Commonwealth Prime Ministers in November—when Her Majesty's Government should declare their intention of withdrawing from the restrictive clauses of G.A.T.T.
There are two arguments which may be advanced against that view. The first is that if we withdraw from the restrictive clauses of G.A.T.T. we may give offence to the United States of America. I do not accept that view for a minute. What is the position? We well know that for the past few years we have been enjoying financial aid from the United States. We are very grateful for it, but that has been paid by the American taxpayer.
I do not believe that the American people or Administration would take exception to our trying to put our own house in order—indeed, following the policy laid down by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in a recent speech at Edinburgh, when he said that the time had come when we had to stand on our own feet and become independent. I feel that our American friends would welcome it. Surely, that is a sentiment which must appeal to every Member in the House.
The other criticism against our withdrawing from the restrictive Clauses of G.A.T.T. unilaterally, so to speak, is that we should not take that step without consulting the Prime Ministers of the Commonwealth. I believe that the Commonwealth countries are looking to Her Majesty's Government for a lead in these matters. The same thing happened in 1931 prior to the Ottawa Agreement. The Government of the United Kingdom at that time decided that we were going to pursue a policy of Imperial Preference. I 81 do not suggest that we say to the Commonwealth Prime Ministers that we want them to do the same; we are asking nothing from them. All I advocate is that we should say that we have decided to do this and we should ask whether they are prepared to co-operate and to consider the matter.
Although there is no one remedy to improve and expand our trade—certainly there is no quick remedy—I believe that if the Government took this line it would play a tremendous part in expanding trade, not only throughout the Empire, but throughout the whole world. Therefore, I sincerely hope that the Government will enter the Conference of Prime Ministers in November fully determined to make this great partnership of nations once more a living reality.
§ 6.52 p.m.
§ Mr. John Rankin (Glasgow, Tradeston)
The hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Beresford Craddock) has opened a field which is rich in argument and into which I should dearly have loved to follow him to join battle, but in view of the number of hon. Members on both sides of the House who are waiting to speak I must be as brief as possible. Therefore, I shall confine myself to three points in the Gracious Speech which interest me.
The first point with which I want to deal begins with the paragraph in the Speech which tells us that:Further consideration will be given to the draft scheme for federation in Central Africa. For this purpose My Government have invited the three Central African Governments to a further conference in London in January.I do not propose tonight to enter into what would be a fruitless argument: namely, the merits or demerits of Central African federation. At the moment, that is not the issue that faces the Government and the country. The question now before us is whether or not the Government are to impose federation on the Central African territories. Those territories may have federation by imposition or they may have it by consent. I submit that if consent cannot be obtained from the Africans, it would be fatal to impose federation upon them.
Whatever we may have thought a few months ago about the attitude of the people most concerned—the Africans themselves—however much we may have hoped that they would come to realise 82 the benefits of federation, it is now perfectly clear that at the conference which the Government propose to hold in January the Africans will not be present. Therefore, if the Government pursue their present policy they will impose federation on the African territories.
My belief is that that decision at this moment, in view of the tremendous unrest which has fastened on Africa, would result in the most serious consequences. I am sure that we all want to retain the confidence of the African population—that is essential for any future proposals we may care to submit; and if we do in fact desire to retain African confidence I offer two suggestions.
My first suggestion is that the Government should drop, and drop at once, the idea of federation and that they should proceed to initiate discussion on some other form of co-ordinating those three territories, such as the creation of a High Commission. My second point is that the Government should immediately proceed to deal with the grave internal problems at present affecting both Nyasaland and Northern Rhodesia.
But in approaching the problem of closer co-ordination along different lines, the matter ought not to be delegated to officials. However highly we may view the competence of the officials in the service of the Government, the problem of seeking for agreement with the Central African territories is one that ought to be discussed and dealt with by the political leaders of all the races concerned.
If these suggestions are rejected and nobody is prepared to move to break the deadlock which may ensue, I fear that the future of Central Africa will be dominated by racial strife. We are taking this decision, if we decide to impose federation on these territories, at a moment that is fraught with the gravest possible dangers. We are dealing not merely with local discontent.
If one views Africa today, there is trouble in the South between Malan and the mixed and indigenous peoples there. There is trouble over Bechuanaland, Swaziland and Basutoland. There is unrest in Eastern Africa and in Central Africa. Although we have no responsibility for it, there is ferment and agitation in Tunisia, in Algeria and in Morocco.
Africa at the moment is a continent stirring and fermenting with strife. Any 83 false step taken by the Government may provide for that dark continent a common denominator round which the races of the whole of Africa may be able to unite. The result of a wrong move may be that we will array in Africa the European against the whole of the rest of Africa. If that eventuates, as well it may by reason of bad decisions now, we might fling into a state of agitation one place where we have something good to show—the Western part of Africa—and we may thereby unite the entire continent in a wave of frustration which would make the position of the European absolutely impossible.
The second point with which I want to deal concerns the paragraph which starts:My Government will proceed resolutely with the task of placing the national economy on a sound foundation.After listening to the hon. Member for Spelthorne, I am sure that the Front Bench is now fully seized of the immense difficulty of the problem that awaits them, but what I should like to know is why the country should have this dreary threat hanging over its head. The speech from the Throne is called a Gracious Speech; why should it contain the dismal threat that the Government are to proceed resolutely with the policy which has brought so much despair into so many quarters?
Look at the results of a year's application of this policy, and what do we find? We find that stocks at the retail, wholesale and manufacturing levels are now down by £400 million as compared with 1st January. Consumption, on the average for the whole country, has gone down by 4 per cent. Admittedly, wages, on the average, since January, have risen by 2.3 per cent. But, while the average wage rate has gone up, hours of employment have gone down.
Therefore, earnings have increased by much less than 2.3 per cent. and at the same time retail prices in the same period have gone up by 5 per cent. As we know from the Budget, those in the higher income classes benefited through tax reductions by as much as 5 per cent. of their income.
It is extremely probable—and this to me is the viciousness of Government policy—it is an extremely probable conclusion that the reduction in consumption which has been part of a deliberate policy 84 which the Government are still prepared to prosecute has fallen almost completely on that section of the community least able to bear it, the low income classes.
The hon. Member for Spelthorne, whom I should have liked to question on one statement, told us that there was a reduction in investment. That is true, and how we are to improve exports while at the same time reducing the amount of money we are applying to productive enterprise is a mystery which the hon. Member failed to solve so far as I was concerned.
It is a fact that during the year investment in productive enterprise has decreased and, while it has been decreasing here, in America at present it is running at the record level of £18,000 million per year. In France, investment in productive employment has gone up, and in Germany my information is that it has gone up by nearly 40 per cent. That is at a time when we, as a consequence of the policy which this Government threatens still to follow, are pouring less of our resources into those developments which are essential if we are to maintain our export trade in face of this competition of those other nations. It is a grave disadvantage to us, a nation which must export or die.
In his concluding passage today the Prime Minister told us that we were making progress, but he failed to tell us where the progress was carrying us. He did not complete that sentence. It was really left unfinished. He did not say whether the progress was backwards or forwards. From the figures I have submitted it is quite clear that we are progressing backwards instead of forwards and that the policy of the Government is not a tonic but an emetic.
My third point refers to "my ain, my native land." I am very glad to see that the Secretary of State for Scotland is with us, and I hope that he will take due note of what I say on this point on the paragraph which begins:The question of the supply of electricity in Scotland is being attentively examined with a view to legislation.Why they put in that awkward word, "attentively," I do not know. Why not use the word "closely," which is just as clear in its meaning and not so awkward as the one the Government have chosen? But of course, it is in keeping with many things that the Government have done.
85 I should like to probe the intentions of the Government a little further in this matter. For a long while they have been pecking at this problem of electricity distribution in Scotland. I should like to know if the examination which they are now carrying on and if the legislation which they propose to introduce will have any bearing on the future of the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board. I submit with all respect that the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board is somewhat different in its perspective, its functions, and in its powers from either of the other two supply area boards in Scotland.
The South-East and the South-West Electricity Boards are solely concerned with the function of supplying electricity, but the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board is an instrument with a much wider purpose than either of the area boards. I think it would be a most backward step if the Government were to propose any legislation that would cause the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board to be identified with the South-East and the South-West Electricity Boards. The Hydro-Electric Board under the Act is enjoined to distribute electricity generated by means of water power; to provide local consumers in the district—the north of Scotland area—and also large users, and at the same time to export its surplus to the Central Electricity Board. But, over and above that, the Act charges it with the necessity of collaboratingin carrying out any measures for the economic development and social improvement of the north of Scotland District or any part thereof.That is a function which does not belong to either of the area boards or to the Central Electricity Board.
In addition, the Board is charged with looking after the amenities and the fisheries of the North of Scotland. It gives it general powers of reclamation and of development that are alien to the functions and purposes of the Central Electricity Board or to any of the area boards that function in conjunction with it. I would ask that before the Secretary of State for Scotland, who must be consulted in a matter of this nature, takes any step that will imperil the status or the duties of the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board, as presently constituted, he will think very long and very carefully indeed.
86 There is an old saying to the effect that those whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad. Looking over the past year of Tory promises and Tory implementation of them, my wonder is how long the madness will last and how soon the destruction will come.
§ 7.11 p.m.
§ Mr. W. G. Bennett (Glasgow, Woodside)
I wish to assure the Government that the measures they have taken or those which they are proposing to take in the new Session will have, if not unanimous support, at least a great deal of support in every industrial constituency in Scotland. The constituency that I represent is purely industrial, and at the moment there is a wave of optimism throughout Glasgow.
The hon. Member for Tradeston (Mr. Rankin) is always rather pessimistic, and he wants to solve his problems before they arise. He has spoken about Africa and wishes us to judge that question before we have the facts before us. I wish to bring before the House one or two important matters and to examine what the contributions of the various hon. Members this afternoon have meant.
Most of the suggestions from the other side of the House have really been an attack on the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, because let us remind ourselves that in July last year he warned us in no uncertain manner about where we were going, that there was a hole in the bag, that the money was running out very fast and that something had to be done. The Government did the right thing. They went to the country, and the country gave its verdict on the facts as it knew them.
The present Government have been challenged—we have heard it this afternoon and also many times in the past few months—about the addition to costs caused through the rise in the Bank rate. Let it always be remembered that the greatest gift to the Stock Exchange and to every manufacturer and business house in this country was the right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton), the ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer. With his cheap money policy, he doubled the value of every business in the country, and what happened? He started a wave of inflation from which we are only now beginning to recover.
87 A man or a company which had a business worth £100,000 had that sum doubled; in a few weeks it was worth £200,000. There was a flotation and they got £100,000 in cash while retaining half the business. In that way they still had half the business and the sum of money that it had been worth three or four months previously.
That is what happened when the right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland was telling the country that he would save them this and that with his cheap money policy. In the end, the result was like a balloon that had burst. The people who put their money in his stocks now find that those stocks are worth 60 to 65 per cent. of their par value, so that they have lost 30 to 35 per cent. in a few years. That is the result of a cheap money policy.
We are told that we have not at the moment the money to spend on capital investment. Of course, we all know that; that is the reason why we have to sell everything abroad to keep ourselves alive. We were told that we were fighting for our existence.
The Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Short) asked this afternoon why we have at present less school building and less hospital building. He gave us a few figures and told us that we were not building sufficient factories in the country. In the West of Scotland at the moment we have a few factories waiting for tenants. That is why we are not building new factories. I am all for building houses before schools, because the child spends more of its life at home than it does in the school, and the primary function of motherhood and fatherhood is to see that their child is well housed and well fed. We are still doing quite well in respect of educational expenditure. The House should remember that more money is being spent on education this year than last year.
Another hon. Member made great play about the scarcity of work in the London docks. What can we expect? Australia, New Zealand and South Africa were compelled to cut down their imports from this country, which had its effect on the exports going out through the docks of this country. We have been compelled to do the same thing as those Dominions have done. We could buy any amount of 88 sugar and take sugar off the ration if we could pay for the necessary purchases. The Dominions were in a like position; they cut down their imports, which hurt us and we had to suffer a loss in our exports.
Some hon. Member opposite grumbled about the Australians and New Zealanders and referred to what we might tell them when they came here—that they must buy more from us. But others can say the same to us. Jamaica can say, "Why do you not buy our sugar?" The answer is that they want something for it; we have to give them something for it. We want something from the Australians, and so it goes on.
We find ourselves in a difficult position, but it is no good turning round and saying that the fault is all on the one side or all on the other. Many things have come to us from the past. If we were perfect, perhaps we should not be here and if our fathers had been perfect we should not require to be here; but it is a poor bairn that miseries its father. Those who do that only make fools of themselves.
I turn to housing. The Government have done extraordinarily well in that sphere but not half well enough, and nothing they can do for many years to come will solve the housing problem. I ask the Government to remember that the problem, in Glasgow particularly, seems to be insoluble. It is no use talking about a house costing £1,500. It may be that a house is required which will cost £3,500 for a four-apartment dwelling.
We have to build these houses in the city, where it is not the cost of the land that will be a deterrent. If our fathers could, in the past, build tenements in the centre of Glasgow, and let a room and a kitchen for £7 to £10 or £12 per annum we can build still better houses on the same sites, with the necessary air space, etc., today and let them at a fair rent because we shall be saving in respect of the cost of the general services.
It is no use building houses in the country and spending £1,500 or £1,800 per house if we have to lay water pipes, gas mains, electricity cables and build schools and churches and cinemas. Those are in the city at the moment. We ought to start to clear spaces for building one or two first-class tenemental flats and then decant the people out of one area into another.
§ Mr. Bennett
The answer to that question is being supplied. There is more steel coming from the mills and there is more pig-iron coming into the country. I am quite certain that that is not an insoluble problem. However, if it is only a question of steel, no doubt that will be answered. What we have to do is to ask the Government to supply more money for housing, remembering, at the same time, that the other services may, in the long run, show a saving.
One could talk for a long while on what is in the few Measures proposed. But we ought all to say a little and leave the rest for someone else. Many of the suggestions which have been put forward this afternoon are something like those of Annie in "Annie Get Your Gun." It does not matter what it is, anything one side can do the other side can do better. That is not so. It will take all of our resources in the coming Session to get over our common troubles, and I would ask the House to use less time for criticism and more for construction.
§ 7.21 p.m.
§ Mr. James Simmons (Brierley Hill)
The hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Beresford Craddock) welcomed the fact that there was a paucity of legislation promised in the Gracious Speech. He said we had been suffering in the past from too much legislative indigestion. When one looks at the Gracious Speech one finds that, so far as legislation is concerned, the Tory Party is not a party of achievement but a party whose aim is to undermine the achievements of other people. Their two main legislative Measures are designed to undermine legislation placed on the Statute Book by the previous Government.
The hon. Member for Woodside (Mr. W. G. Bennett) made some reference to us all pulling together and helping to get the country out of the economic mess in which it is today. How can we expect hon. Members on this side of the House to respond to an appeal like that when we have the vindictive action of the Government so far as steel and transport is concerned?
Every time I have a public meeting in my constituency, usually at the street corners where the people are congregated, 90 the questions which are asked me as a rule are, "How can we get this Government out?" "When can we turf out the Tories?" Those are the kind of sentiments expressed in my division, which is almost entirely a working class division. When I am asked this, and I see the resentment welling up among my constituents, I usually appeal for fair play for the Tories, because I am a fair-minded man. I point out that many little irritations and inconveniences from which they are suffering are not the result of the actions of the Tory Government, but result from things outwith the control of the Tory Government.
I say that I make this appeal for fair play. But we did not hear many appeals for fair play for the Labour Government from the other side of the House when we were the party governing the country. Anything and everything upon which they could seize was used by the party opposite to belabour the Government then in power. Bad weather, power cuts, anything that came to their mind, was used as an excuse to attack the Labour Government as being responsible for it. But we on this side of the House are not so irresponsible in our opposition as were the party now in office when they were in Opposition. We do not make extravagant and wild charges against our political opponents.
That is not to say that we do not hit them as hard as we possibly can—above the belt. We hit them hard and often. My mission in life is to tan the Tories. That is what I was sent to Parliament for and that is what I have striven all my life to do in over 30 years of Socialist propaganda on street corners. The Tories, like the leopard, do not change their spots. They are still the same old Tories today as they were pre-1914, and between the wars, and I shall continue to tan them, and hit them as hard as possible whenever possible.
But I wish to be fair. I tell my constituents that they must not blame everything on to the Tories. Then I go on to tell them what they can blame the Tories for. I tell them to blame the Tories for the increase in the cost of living. That is something for which they are responsible. They legislated for it in their Finance Bill. They said, "The Conservatives will mend the hole in your purse." Well, they have fallen down badly on that little job of darning, so 91 badly, indeed, that the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. H. A. Price), who seconded the Motion for the Address this afternoon announced in the public Press that he was giving £3 a month extra to his wife to meet the increased cost of living since the Tories had been in power.
My wife is a very busy woman. She is an alderman of the City of Birmingham and Chairman of the Housing Committee, so while we have been in Recess I have been doing a bit of the household shopping. I was amazed. I never realised the extent of the increase in the cost of things necessary in the home. All this about the cost-of-living index is so much "baloney." It is not what she sees on paper that concerns the housewife. It is what she has in her purse when she has finished her shopping—[HON. MEMBERS: "And before she starts."] It is what she has left that concerns her, because it is only what she has left that she can spend on little luxuries and comforts for herself and for her family, to which they are entitled as much as are people on the other side of the House.
When the housewife has finished her shopping today she has precious little left in her purse. It is not only the prices of food which have gone up, but washing powders, household utensils and things like that. They are part of the cost of living just as much as tea, sugar and butter, and the rest of it. I say that the Government have failed entirely to live up to the great expectations they aroused during the Election campaign, when they told the people that they would do so much better than the Labour Government had done so far as the cost of living and the condition of the people were concerned. They offered us "Great Expectations" but we have been living in "Bleak House."
I represent a steel producing constituency. When I have gone into Labour clubs in my constituency and seen the chaps there, they have been very proud of the production they have put out. They have been very proud of the job they have been doing as partners of the community in a publicly-owned industry. The Government themselves admit that steel production is going up and continuing to go up under public ownership. It has been going up in spite of the difficulties with pig iron and raw materials, and 92 we have been overcoming these difficulties under public ownership.
My people in Brierley Hill just cannot understand why the Government intend to monkey about with an industry which is doing so well under public ownership. If the industry had fallen down on the job, there might have been some excuse for the Government to do something, but it has not fallen down on the job. Why do the Government want to hand over once again a large section of the industry to private enterprise?
We are being told by the experts—and I read an article either yesterday or this morning in the "Birmingham Daily Post," which is a Conservative newspaper, but a good newspaper, and I have also seen it stated elsewhere—that, within a measurable distance of time, we shall be having a surplus world production of steel.
What happened last time we had a surplus world production of steel? We entered into a steel cartel, under which the world production of steel was parcelled out, not by the Government of this country, not even by the British steel-masters, but by the cartel, which decided how much steel should be produced in what country. As a result of that, we had men thrown out of work and steel plants closed because there was a world surplus of steel production.
What do these people mean by a world surplus of steel, because that is the crux of the whole situation? They mean a surplus of steel which cannot be sold to make sufficient profit for those who are responsible for the production of steel. If the production of steel was organised on the basis of service to the community—not merely the British community, but the world community—there could not be a world surplus of steel for a generation or two to come.
There is a great need for construction, reconstruction and rehabilitation, not merely in this country, but in many countries. What we need is a super-Colombo Plan, if there is a world surplus of steel. Let it not be a question of making profit for the producers, but a wider question of the profit to humanity by doing the jobs which steel can do, irrespective of what profit there is to be made out of it.
93 We are given in the Gracious Speech a paragraph dealing with increased productivity. How are the workers in industry being encouraged, so far as increased production is concerned? We know that production is going down. What is the reason why it is going down? Is it that the workers have far less sense of economic and social security under the Tories than they had under Labour? Is that a possible explanation?
If we want men to work hard and produce more, we have to give them an incentive to work hard and produce more. What is the kind of incentive which they have been getting recently? They have, for instance, the Docker incentive—that of the great millionaire industrialist who once spent £20,000 on a motor car, a diamond and gold studded motor car. Is that an incentive to the worker to produce more?
Then, again, we have the eve of Parliament Tory Party jamborees, about which we have read in the evening newspapers. One man could afford to have a marquee centrally heated with radiators, to which he invited a whole "circus" on the eve of the opening of Parliament. How does it act as an incentive to workers, when they read about things like that? Is that an incentive to put their guts into the job and produce more, when they know that they must be content with £5 or £6 a week and somebody else can get away with things like that?
Then there are the Supertax payers. Earlier in the debate, one hon. Member referred to the magnificent achievement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the reduction of Income Tax, but it is the reduction from which the Supertax payers benefited that really puts up the backs of the workers. There is also the question of increased profits, but I will not deal with it, because there are one or two points I would like to make finally on the question of economy.
We are told that there is to be an economy campaign in cutting down Government expenditure. They are always talking of cutting down public expenditure and expenditure on public services, as if it was the case that money spent on public services was obviously wasted. I should say that there is more money usefully spent on public services than there is spent in the private sector of industry, and that the public services give 94 better value for money than does the private sector of industry. So why do we always have this yapping about saving on the public services and on Government expenditure?
Where is this cutting down going to fall? I am very apprehensive when I hear from the Gracious Speech that there is to be a further reduction in Government expenditure. Are we to have more charges on the Health Service? Are we to have more cheeseparing at the expense of the children and the sick? Why do not the Government think of some economies in the Armed Forces? I am not advocating disarmament, or an easing up of the re-armament programme, but I say that we should cut out the waste in the Armed Forces.
There are too many "brass hats" and "Blimps" in the Armed Forces; and there is too much red tape. There are also too many National Service men spending two years of their time, and, at the end of it, having learned nothing, in all probability. In the whole of their two years' service, perhaps they get six months effective service. Why do not the Government, if they are really keen on economy in the Government service, set up an independent commission to investigate the ways in which money is spent by the Armed Forces?
People in the Armed Services are just time-wasting; there are the Z Reserve men and the men with two years' National Service, who seem to do their training at the week-ends. I know a lad who went into the R.A.O.C. or R.A.S.C.—I do not remember which—and who found that the men had to meet at their depot, turn out a lot of lorries, load them up with petrol and go running about the country, returning about midnight and calling that their week-end training.
If we are talking about economy, let us look at ways and means by which it can be carried out. There might be economy if we could abolish the compulsory National Service scheme and have instead, a Voluntary Army. I believe that that would be one of the biggest economies in our expenditure on the Armed Forces. Why cannot we do it? The reason is because the "Blimps" and "brass hats" are antagonising the men who are in the Army already. That is why men will not sign on again.
95 I notice that my old antagonist who is now the Under-Secretary of State for War is present. He once told me that I do not like the Army. It is not true; I think the Army is all right, or, at any rate, the rank and file of the Army. I think it is the top end that is wrong. The hon. Gentleman knows that I have had many cases to bring to his attention. I have another now, of a lad who was taken into the Army A.1 but who was dead within 13 weeks—and all the time he was ill he was told that he was malingering. We cannot recruit a voluntary Army while that kind of thing goes on—and in my opinion that comes under the head of economy when we consider the Gracious Speech.
I say, let us have economy if it is fair economy; but we on this side of the House will not tolerate economies which hit the lives of the people whom we represent. The speech says,My Government will continue the rearmament of My Forces.Let the Government continue the rearmament of the Forces and let them see, as long as we have these Forces and as long as we can get these men by compulsion, they are used efficiently while we have them and that we do not keep them longer than necessary.
I believe that the Gracious Speech, as a forerunner of the Government's programme for the Session, will strike terror and dismay into the hearts of the erstwhile supporters of the Government. It is a speech which will make us all the more determined, when we go from this House at week-ends and during the Parliamentary Recesses, to go into our constituencies and other constituencies, putting every ounce of our energy and vim and vigour into the task of bringing nearer the day when the people of this country will have the opportunity of rising in their wrath and marching to the polling booths to turf out the Tories once and for ever.
§ 7.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Crouch (Dorset, North)
I feel quite sure that the hon. Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Simmons) will forgive me if I do not follow his argument. I wish to refer to that part of the Gracious Speech in which Her Majesty said:My Ministers will encourage all engaged in agriculture … in increasing productive efficiency and thus to produce at lower cost the goods needed at home.96 In looking over the past year, the first year of office of this Government, I am of the opinion that the Government have every reason to be proud of the work they have done in the various fields in which they have operated. In my view, they should be especially proud of the work that has been done in the agricultural field. When we entered office a year ago, we found that, with one exception, the production from our farms of the various commodities had been decreasing for the previous year or so. The one exception was in the case of the pig population, where there had been an increase.
The very first announcement which was made by the Minister of Agriculture was that he intended to give a grant to encourage the breaking up of more grassland so that we could grow more feeding-stuffs at home. The results which have followed from that grant have far exceeded those expected by the Government and by the officials of the Ministry. That was followed by two other Measures, one for giving a grant for fertilisers and one in the form of a production grant for the rearing of more calves suitable for beef production.
The February Price Review, which, I admit, took rather a long time—longer, I think, than any previous Review—produced results in the end which, as the months have gone by, have led to increases in our production in each and every field. In my opinion, the reason is because it awarded a price to each commodity which would cover the cost of production, and because no effort was made in the last Price Review to place an emphasis on one commodity at the expense of others.
In the Gracious Speech, reference is made to giving encouragement to "all engaged in agriculture." There are still some fields in which additional encouragement is needed. I think that the beef production grant will bring about the desired results in that respect, but what has worried me ever since the war has been the failure of the country to increase the number of its sheep. Two methods have been employed with very little result. Today, some 13 years after the start of the last war, the number of our sheep is still several millions—I believe something like seven or eight millions—below the pre-war figure, and that is very alarming indeed. With a greater number of sheep 97 we could very considerably increase the amount of meat available each week to the housewife.
Two methods were employed by the last Government. In 1947, they gave a very repid rise in the price of mutton and lamb in the hope that that would bring about an increase in the number of sheep. Later, we had the Wool Marketing Board and the rising price of wool throughout the world. Nevertheless, we have still not achieved our objective; indeed, we have not started to encourage people to increase their flocks.
What I suggest to the Government is that we should apply a production grant to one year old ewe sheep, so that farmers would increase the size of their flocks. That could be done in arranging the next price settlement. I am not suggesting an additional subsidy, but in fixing the price of sheep full scope should be given to a production grant—I suggest £1 a head for each yearling ewe sheep. I believe that we should then find that our flocks would very quickly increase in the way which we agriculturists want to see.
There is a great deal of land in this country which, on account of its altitude and position and lack of water—and because of the wide open spaces and lack of fencing—is suited only for the production of mutton and lamb. I believe that it is a great pity that today, when we are so concerned about our supplies of meat these vast areas are still unused when we could so easily make such profitable use of them.
I think the Government will also have carefully to examine the position of the horticultural industry. Horticulturists do not receive any benefit from the 1947 Agriculture Act, and during the last several years they have suffered great losses. This year has been no exception. We, as a party, must see that the home producer gets first place in the home market. I think we are agreed that the quota system has failed to bring about that happy result, and what I believe we must do now is to see that tariffs are introduced to cover the horticultural industry.
I think that when one looks back at the wonderful work which the horticulturists did during the war one cannot help but think that they have been treated shamefully ever since. Let it be borne in mind that during the war all the fruits 98 and vegetables we ate were produced by those people at home. They responded most nobly to the appeals that were made to them. I am aware that we were deprived of certain fruits grown in tropical countries, but our horticulturists did all they possibly could for us, and we must now, in our turn, do what we can for them.
It is easy for some to say, as they do say, "Let us bring stuff in from abroad; it is so much cheaper." That may be, but we have to look farther forward than the immediate future. Were this country, unfortunately, again to be engaged in a war we should have to turn again to our own horticulturists to supply us with a great deal of our food, and if we now allow our nurserymen and market gardeners to go out of business they will lose their skill.
Skill, once lost, is difficult to get back. Those men will lose their skill, and it may take some considerable time for them to regain the skill and efficiency they had in 1945. So I hope that the Government will look most carefully at this question of giving the horticulturists tariffs, so that they can carry on with their job, and provide us with good, wholesome, fresh fruit and vegetables.
I am rather hoping that during this year we shall see the return of the Milk Marketing Board to the producers. I think the time is long past when this Board should be part of the Ministry of Food. I think that if the Board were handed back to the producers we should find that we should get greater efficiency in the handling of our milk, and from the various uses to which can be put the milk that remains surplus when the requirements of the country for milk in liquid form have been met.
Reference is made in the Gracious Speech to the Government proceedingresolutely with the task of placing the national economy on a sound foundation.I hope that as far as agriculture is concerned they will see that our costs do not keep rising against us as they have done for far too long. In my view the time has come when we should have a halt in the rises of agricultural prices, because I think that by the agricultural prices and wages rising year by year, as they have been, we are only increasing the inflationary spiral which has brought so much harm to every section of the community. 99 I hope that the agricultural community will set an example to the rest of the country by being very restrained in any demands that may be made during the coming year.
I feel that by the greater use of mechanisation we can produce many of our commodities much more cheaply than they are produced at the present time. By the proper use of science and machinery we can increase our yields, and increase the ease with which they are harvested. I think that if fertilisers are used with the advice of our scientists, in a balanced way, and with the correct period allowed for growth, we can show a very great increase, and a profit on the amount of money spent. Mechanisation has advanced tremendously during the last 30 years, but I feel it will go still farther forward to the benefit of the farmers and the workers and, of course, ultimately, of the consumers.
Let me give one illustration of what can be done by the proper use of machinery. There is a farmer in my division, farming just over 200 acres, who, this year, got in his hay crop with the assistance of his wife—and she did not come in until the end. He cut his grass with a mowing machine; picked it up with a pick-up baler; he had a machine to pick up the bales, the farmer's wife riding on the trailer; and then the bales were stacked by him and his wife whilst the workmen were engaged in other parts of the farm. If that can be done by one man, why cannot it be done by others? It will be done as time goes on.
I would conclude by saying that I hope that this Government will continue with a stable policy for agriculture. Let us avoid the fluctuations we had in the first six years after the war. If we do I am confident that we shall get an increased output, and very much greater confidence among all agriculturists than we have had for quite a few years.
§ 7.57 p.m.
§ Dr. Horace King (Southampton, Test)
I make no apology for expressing regret that the Gracious Speech made no reference to the needs of our blitzed towns, and I wish again to try to convey the sense of injustice under which the citizens of those towns are labouring. I am not ashamed to repeat the plea I made in 100 this House three years ago when I first came—although I am sorry it should still be necessary to have to ask—for a greater measure of justice for the blitzed towns of this country.
This is not a party matter. When some of the hon. Members who represent blitzed towns endeavoured to question the Minister of Housing and Local Government recently—in the last Session—the Minister was tempted to ride off on party answers. I thought the Minister was acting in a way unworthy of him and unworthy of the great moral case which the blitzed towns have to present to this House. My hon. Friends who represent constituencies at Plymouth, Liverpool and elsewhere in Lancashire, East and South-East London, and my colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Morley), have pressed repeatedly Labour Governments that greater aid should be given to these towns; so that this is no party case we seek to bring to the House.
The Labour Government gave considerable help to the blitzed towns in rate relief, in licensing for rebuilding, and in capital reconstruction. It would be ungenerous not to recognise what has been done for the blitzed towns, but so far this year there has been a tapering down, as the figures I recently secured from the Minister of Works in answer to a Question show—a tapering down of the help given to the blitzed towns when we had reason to expect and demand that that help should be increasing if we were to have any hope at all of seeing our towns rebuilt. When Southampton looks out across the Water to Le Havre, it feels that the people of France, at any rate, have treated more generously their war torn seaports than the people of Britain have treated Southampton.
We are neither sentimental nor unrealistic in our approach to this problem. We know the general shortages, the limits to the capital investment programme and the shortage of steel and of labour. I do not wish to make the general Opposition case against the Government on what we think is an unhealthy restriction of the capital investment programme. Rather would I seek to claim inside even the limited capital investment programme of this Government recognition of the rights, economic as well as moral, of the blitzed towns to a small slice of cake rather than the crumbs that we are getting.
101 I am uneasy about where all the steel is going. Very often we hear talk, not of a "black market," but of a "grey market" in steel. We ought to be able to account for every ton of steel we produce. The Government ought to know exactly where every ton of this precious metal goes, and ought to be able to satisfy themselves and the House about the allocation of every ton of steel. Within the steel allocation there should be, apart from the great social needs—the needs of re-armament, of new factories and maintaining full employment in the basic industries—a greater modicum for education. And there should be a definite allocation of a greater amount of steel for the reconstruction of towns like Southampton which have been so battered.
The blitzed towns noted with interest and gratitude the support of newspapers like "The Times," the "News Chronicle," the "Daily Mail" and the "Sphere," calling attention to the just claims of our towns, indicating, in my opinion, that at last the nation is becoming alive to the claim we have frequently been putting before hon. Members. We even appreciate the efforts that have been made to link up Southampton, the gateway of Britain, with Coronation visitors, but we are not very much moved at the suggestion that Southampton ought to be ashamed of itself, ashamed to show its bomb craters to American visitors.
When I was asked by a Sunday newspaper whether I might be quoted as saying that, I pointed out that Southampton's citizens have not only had to put up with this bomb damaged centre of their town for six years, and have not only had to endure the economic and financial hardships which that absence of central property involves, but they were also there bravely and unflinchingly on the nights when Hitler's bombers made the centre of Southampton a mass of battered pulp. We should like to feel that next year foreign visitors who come to Southampton will be able to say, as they can say as they go into Le Havre, Judging by the amount of new building that is going on, Britain does appreciate what Southampton did in those war years."
The Prime Minister sang the praises of the blitzed towns of England in the war years, and he voiced what I thought was the nation's determination to give justice 102 to the war battered towns. Tonight, therefore, as a Member coming fresh from his constituents, I take this opportunity to do what people of all political parties in my town have asked me to do, and that is to voice the claim on behalf of Southampton and other blitzed towns for a fair share of what is in short supply—for "Marshall Aid" for our blitzed towns. We look forward with anxiety and hope to the promised Ministerial statement on that subject.
The Gracious Speech contains much promise of partisan legislation which will divide the country more bitterly in these next months, at a time when the country needs more than ever to be united as a family. I believe, too, that it contains very little which would suggest that the Government are aware of the grave economic struggle that we have to face on the one hand and, equally important to hon. Members on this side of the House, the necessity to continue the march forward to social justice in this country.
If I were able to move an Amendment to the Gracious Speech, it would be, "That this House regrets that the Gracious Speech contains no reference to the serious damage done to our children by the educational policy of this Government." In the days of the late George Tomlinson—who I believe was the greatest Minister of Education we have had, except perhaps for the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler) in his golden days round about 1944—some of us were alarmed about the inadequacy of the school building programme. We pointed out that even Mr. Tomlinson's programme would barely meet the needs of the increased school population, and would only meet the needs if the "infant bulge" happened to occur at just the right geographical spot where the new schools happened to be.
When we were pressing the late Minister some of us were fortified by the speeches of the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden who, in 1950, urged that we must double our new school places programme, and in a moving peroration addressed to the Minister urged him to redouble his efforts, to struggle forward and not to sacrifice his chance of immortality. What worries all those who love education is that the effect of the present Chancellor's first 12 months of office has been to reduce the provision of new school 103 places by at least half, and probably to one-third. I would say that I do not accept figures of a reduction to one-tenth, mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Short) is an otherwise very informative speech.
All who believe in education must be alarmed at the steady increase in the numbers of large classes under a Minister who, when herself attacking the Labour Government, when her party was in Opposition, speaking of smaller classes and fewer large classes, said that it was impossible to teach children in such large numbers. Month by month and year by year under this Government the number of large classes will increase.
Last Session we were told, rightly, of the acute shortage of teachers, and of the fact that the problem is not only one of new school building, but, as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Education said, a question of the supply of teachers. Yet there has been no serious action taken by the Government. There is no indication in the Gracious Speech of such action, of some campaign, of some solution that they have discovered of the problem of recruiting the extra teachers that we must find if we are to educate the children of the next generation in classes of under 40 and under 50.
I am more troubled than I can say about the 900,000 British children who are being educated in all-age schools. These children are being deprived of secondary education, and, what is nearly as important, they miss all the nonacademic moral leadership training that young children of 10, 11 and 11-plus receive in our good junior schools. This division into junior and secondary is by no means some luxury with which we can dispense. Nearly one-sixth of our children are deprived of full junior education and full secondary education.
This Government has stopped the re-organisation which was proceeding to make that secondary education possible. In two Hampshire towns, if not in four, but certainly in two, and in the 20 villages surrounding those two towns, another generation of British children are going to lose the opportunity of real secondary education because this Government, within its first 12 months of 104 office, stopped the building of a school at Petersfield in Hampshire and a school at Fordingbridge in Hampshire, and in the case of the school at Fordingbridge the tenders had already gone out.
I do not blame the Minister of Education for the cuts. Inside of the narrow confines imposed by the Cabinet which excludes her from its deliberations, I believe that she has done the best that she could. I have reason to know that her Ministry has recently given very sympathetic consideration to representations made from my own town and my own county. Even in that case, when special terms have been given to two local education authorities and with the concessions which she has made to ease the accommodation problem, the problems which those two local authorities have to meet are by no means solved.
My complaint against the Minister is not that she has been compelled to do what the Chancellor of the Exchequer has made her do, but that she seems unaware of the damage already done, and when we address her in the House she repeats, almost like a magical incantation, the formula: If you approve fewer buildings, more will be built. I would say that almost every local education authority, Tory or Socialist, throughout the country, knows just how grim the effect of the cuts must be in their own area. We will not solve the kind of difficulty that this country is up against for the next 50 years if our children remain half-educated, if we leave them in crowded classrooms, in all-age schools and in bad old school buildings which should have been destroyed 40 years ago.
The third point that I wish to raise is a matter which may appear to some hon. Members to be one of detail, but I want to suggest that it contains a very vital principle indeed. As every hon. Member of the House knows, we have a class system of education, and we shall have it all the time that it is impossible for a miner's son, a busman's son or a tramway-man's son to go to Eton, Harrow or Winchester, or any of the other great public schools which once belonged to us, and which were taken from us hundreds of years ago.
Since the war we have been urged on both sides of the House and throughout the country to break down some of that 105 class barrier, in particular in the recruitment of cadets for officerships in Her Majesty's Navy, Army and Air Force. I called the attention of the House last summer to the fact that for cadetships to the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth one in two public school boys who passed the written examination were selected, whereas only one in seven grammar school boys who passed the written examination were selected. It seems to me that there are three possible explanations of that fact.
It may mean that in the small social group from which public schools draw their scholars, the number of born leaders of men is nearly four times the number of leaders who happen to be born among the other 95 per cent. of the nation's children. I do not believe that. If that is not the explanation, another possible explanation is that a public school education is four times better than a grammar school education. I do not propose to make any comment on that, except to say that personally I do not think that is true, but it is one of the alternatives that both public school educationalists and grammar school educationalists must consider.
The third possible reason is that when boards of commissioners select by interview and when they weigh heavily the interview marks against the written examination marks, that examining board is either deliberately or unconsciously, objectively or subjectively, giving greater weight than it should to social origin and social graces. Whatever the answer to that question—and the First Lord of the Admiralty has set up a working party to examine the question of the selection of cadetships for the Royal Naval College at Dartford—this problem is indeed a serious one. The hon. Member for Cardiff, South East (Mr. Callaghan), who took part in the movement which widened and opened the door to the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth to working-class boys, has suggested that we lift the method of examining and the process of examining out of the hands of those who are doing it today and hand it over to the Civil Service Commissioners.
I am not sure whether the Civil Service Commissioners themselves are competent to do the job which I would ask them to do. I have here a photostat copy sent by a very disappointed person—and if I gave his name and the position of his 106 own son, hon. Members would understand his disappointment—of the marks and the final result of an examination conducted by the Civil Service Commission for naval cadetships, first appointments in the Royal Marines, Royal Military College, Sandhurst, and Royal Air Force cadetships. I propose to lay before the House some rather surprising facts.
Twenty-eight candidates were accepted. Of these the bottom candidate was 89th in the written examination. Two of the successful candidates had under half marks in the written examination, 47 of the unsuccessful candidates had over half marks and 61 of the rejected boys were higher in the written examination than the lowest successful candidate. Of the 61, 45 had also passed the medical examination, so they were not rejected for medical reasons.
The aggregate marks of the written examination and the personal interview are also given, and they show that 42 boys who failed to be awarded cadetships, excluding any rejected on medical grounds, had a higher aggregate in interview and written examination than the bottom successful candidate. In the written examination, the first, second, third, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, thirteenth and fourteenth places were taken by boys who were rejected, whilst the 89th was accepted. One boy who was third in the written examination was rejected for Sandhurst although his marks in both written examination and personal interview were very much above those of the boy who was accepted and although his aggregate was some 250 above that of the accepted candidate.
Some of us are determined some day to create an educational system which will give equal opportunities to all our children. The slogan "equality of opportunity" has been used commonly by both sides of the House during the post-war years. Both Defence Ministers in the last régime said they shared the view that we should recruit for our Navy, Army and Air Force the best young lads whether they come from elementary schools or public schools.
I am one of those who cannot believe that we have equality of opportunity as long as, on the one hand, millions of children are being educated in crowded schools and more than one million children are deprived of secondary education while, on the other hand, there is 107 a system of selection for cadetships in the various Services which puts a premium on boys coming from good social homes and handicaps boys who have not been lucky enough to choose the right parents.
§ 8.21 p.m.
§ Mr. F. Blackburn (Stalybridge and Hyde)
One of our difficulties is that we do not know exactly how serious is the attention which the Government pays to the loyal Address. When we remember the parts of the last one which were not carried out during the Session we cannot help wondering whether the Government has the same attitude towards the loyal Address as the Prime Minister has towards Election programmes. I can assure the Government that there are one or two sections of the Address that we should be prepared to see deleted or not carried out.
The Government, like every other Government in every Session since the war, is faced with very serious and critical problems in both the domestic sphere and international affairs, and the problems facing the Government this year are no less serious and critical than those which faced them last year. Indeed, the problems of internal affairs are much more serious.
In international affairs, both political and economic, there are problems relating to the Commonwealth and the sterling area, the Colonies, our balance of payments and re-armament; and there are among the domestic problems those which are influenced by all the other problems I have mentioned. These are the problems which face the Government as it takes office at the beginning of this Session. In the international sphere we still have the Korean war. Several hon. Members have made a suggestion which could bring the war to a speedy end, and that is recognition of the Government of China by the United Nations.
The Foreign Secretary tells us that the danger of war has receded, and everyone will welcome such a statement. We are told that Britain has regained her prestige. But one cannot regain something which one never lost, and the fact that after the war there was a wave of intense nationalism did not mean that this country had lost its prestige. What has happened is that during the past 12 108 months there has been less denigration of this country by our own people, the people who used to say that this country had lost its prestige now being the very people who say that it has regained it.
As to the problems relating to the Commonwealth and the sterling area, every hon. Member is glad to know that there is to be another Commonwealth conference at the end of the year. Many of us think it is coming about many months too late. We tried to press on the Government soon after the conference of last January that it was important that another conference should be called. I hope that there will emerge from the conference something more satisfactory than what emerged from the conference last January. It is high time to give very serious consideration to the setting up of a permanent body to consider Commonwealth problems. The Commonwealth itself should have a greater measure of power and should be much more closely associated with the control of the sterling area.
It is vitally important that, as a Commonwealth, we should work together to a co-ordinated plan, and I am not necessarily referring to Imperial preference. We are faced with a very difficult situation. The economy of this country is precariously balanced. If the Commonwealth as a whole co-ordinated its policy it would be strong enough to resist what has been referred to as the "lurchings" of the American economy—and I hope that no one will accuse me of being anti-American because I have quoted that phrase.
The Government faces very serious problems in the Colonies at the present time, and the way they handle the problems will mean very much in the future in the relationships between the dark-skinned peoples and ourselves. I hope the Government will show such a measure of statesmanship that all the Colonies will trust us and believe that we are trying to lead them nearer to the day when they can take full control over their own destinies, and I hope that that will be in association with the Commonwealth.
The Government have to face the serious problem of re-armament. Unfortunately, the Government have not so far taken us into their confidence and we do not know the size of the re-armament programme. It is important that the 109 Government should tell the House where we are going, and it is also important that the Government should press for equality of sacrifice in re-armament among the allies. It is having a serious effect upon the economies of some countries, but in other cases it has not been felt.
I am not objecting to a re-armament programme, but I think the Government are making a very serious mistake when they try to solve their balance of payments problem by exporting armaments. That is a crazy, economic system. We shall be landed in the same state as at the end of the war when we were the arsenal of the allies, and, in the meantime, we shall be losing those markets which have been traditional for our exports. I hope that the Government will look very seriously at this matter.
The next problem I wish to refer to is the balance of payments itself, and I know that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, when be speaks on this subject, will not be quite so optimistic as one or two of his own back benchers. The Chancellor will agree that there are many external things which have helped to bring about the improvement at the present time. We on this side of the House are delighted that the problem has been solved. But it was solved before in 1947 and in 1950. It was not, however, a permanent solution, nor can we look upon this as a permanent solution. So long as our economy is so precariously balanced we are in danger of seeing a recurrence of past crises.
The hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Beresford Craddock) suggested that the recovery was due to the strong action which had been taken by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, such as the cuts in imports, encouragement for exports—it is a little difficult to understand that, since there has been a reduction in exports—and by cutting down capital investment. By the latter we are pawning our future. We shall make it very much more difficult in the years to come to deal with the problem which now faces us and which will continue to face us unless we can work in greater collaboration with the Commonwealth and other nations.
It is no use our exporting capital goods to build up the industries of our competitors and letting our own lack the very 110 things they need in order to help them to compete with other countries. The Government have cut imports and any Government which came in would have had to do just that, but I think hon. Members on the other side have forgotten that trade has been running in their favour.
There has been a general world recovery from the great upset caused by the heavy stockpiling by the Americans, and there has been a reduction in the price of raw materials. The Government have reaped an advantage there. They have also reaped the advantage from increased coal production. That advantage has arisen because of the nationalisation of the mines, and because there has been, unfortunately, greater unemployment in this country.
We have faced the balance of payments problem, and temporarily we have solved it, but I am quite certain that the Chancellor himself does not consider that it is permanently solved. We must go forward with other measures. We must do what is not being done at the present time, namely, increase our production and our exports.
That brings me to the last problem to which I wish to refer, the question of our internal economy and of our domestic problems. I have said that the Government this year are faced with a more serious problem than 12 months ago. The internal situation is worse than it was then. The cost of living is up, production is down, exports are down and unemployment is increasing.
I have been a Member of this House for only 12 months, but during that time my greatest anxiety has been the unemployment in my constituency, where many people are engaged in the textile industry. It has been a matter of anxiety not only to me but to my constituents, who have said, "Surely it is not all starting again?" Unemployment is spreading among young people. In my constituency, among those who have been making use of the employment exchanges, the amount paid out in the past year was 16 times what it was in the year before. That comparison gives some idea of the problem. I am afraid that if the present policies of the Government are continued unemployment will grow throughout the country.
111 What measures are the Government taking to deal with reduced production and exports and increased unemployment? Two major items referred to in the Gracious Speech are what are now calledthe re-organsation of the Iron and Steel Industryandchanges in the Transport Industry.Neither the re-organisation or de-nationalisation, nor the annulment of the Iron and Steel Act will add one ton to steel production in this country and will in no way help to deal with the very serious problems that face us. De-nationalisation of road haulage will not help us to deal with our problems.
When we were discussing the Licensed Premises in New Towns Bill I objected that the Government were frittering away our time discussing such an unimportant Measure when serious problems faced the Government and the country. We are now to spend a good deal of time—it has been suggested that there will be days and nights—discussing the de-nationalisation of iron and steel and road transport when we ought to be spending time to discover ways to deal with the fall in production and in exports, and increased unemployment.
§ 8.38 p.m.
§ Mr. F. H. Hayman (Falmouth and Camborne)
The question which affects most hon. Members on this side of the House is full employment. There is a reference to employment in the Gracious Speech. I have been comparing what the Conservative Party said in their General Election manifesto, "Britain Strong and Free," with what they said in the King's Speech last year and what they say now. In "Britain Strong and Free" they said:The object is to produce more goods and services more quickly and more cheaply so as to ensure maximum production and the fullest possible employment.In last year's King's Speech the idea of full employment was dropped. It said:… to maintain employment and an increasingly high level of production.Employment has decreased during the past 12 months, as has production. In the Gracious Speech today we read:In the interests of employment and the standard of living of my people, My Government will persevere with measures to curb 112 inflation and to reduce the heavy load of Government expenditure.The emphasis is on the heavy load of Government expenditure.
§ Mr. Hayman
I am very pleased that his party has the approbation of the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro). He probably shares their view, expressed last year in their Election manifesto, that a fundamentally different approach and a new atmosphere is required.
That expresses exactly how the Government view the employment problem in this country. During the past 12 months one measure which they thought would maintain full employment and, I suppose, gave a fundamentally different approach, was to cut the food subsidies drastically against the advice of the Trades Union Congress. And I presume that they again intend to carry out measures which will, in curbing inflation, create additional unemployment in the docks and elsewhere.
§ Mr. Nabarro
The hon. Gentleman is talking about increasing unemployment. Would he give us the current figure of unemployment or the figure at the latest convenient date?
§ Mr. Hayman
I cannot do that at the moment, but it is well known that unemployment figures have increased during the time this Government has been in power.
§ Mr. Nabarro
But increased compared with what? My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister this afternoon referred to an unemployment rate of less than 2 per cent.
§ Mr. Hayman
The average percentage of unemployment at the time the Labour Government went out of office was 1 per cent.
§ Mr. Hayman
Attention has been drawn to certain trends which can be observed in my own constituency of Falmouth and Camborne. Again, we hear of shipping being laid up in the Fal. The great tonnage of shipping laid by in the inter-war years was a 113 serious indication of the mass unemployment occurring then throughout the country and in my own constituency. I have told the House once before that in the 10 years before the war the average percentage of unemployment in Falmouth and Camborne was 25 per cent. We do not want to see anything of that kind recurring.
I am glad to see the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade here, because I wrote to him a few days ago about a firm in the town in which I live, Redruth, which wants to buy an American machine for the knitting industry at a cost of £300. So far, his Department have refused permission for this purchase although the goods it will make will be export goods to the dollar area. I hope that when the case comes before the hon. and learned Gentleman he will give it his sympathetic consideration, because two or more of the small clothing industries which came into Redruth after the war have closed. Here is a chance to expand the knitting industry, which is of some importance in Cornwall. As far as building is concerned, we read now that there are building trade workers on the unemployment lists at the employment exchanges.
The hon. Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Crouch) drew attention just now to the agricultural industry and recited a paean of praise for what has happened in that industry in the last 12 months. He tried to denigrate what had been done for agriculture under Labour Governments. The fact remains that when the Labour Government went out of office, agriculture production was 40 per cent. above the pre-war figure.
§ Mr. Hayman
I should like to draw the attention of the hon. Member for Kidderminster and others to the fact that this year the horticulture industry in Cornwall suffered a loss of £250,000 on the early potato crop because of the bungling of Government Departments. We now read of a speech by a leading farmer in Cornwall last week exhorting Cornish farmers not to be depressed by the record under the Conservative Government but to continue with the planting of early potatoes.
114 In addition, I had a letter only three days ago from an agricultural constituent pointing out that in one area he and many others had been thrown out of work for 10 weeks. If workers in the agriculture industry are to be subjected to unemployment, there will be little hope of the increase in food production which, we are all agreed, is essential.
There is no mention in the Gracious Speech of any expansion of the National Health Service. I should like to call the attention of the Minister of Health—
§ Mr. Hayman
—to a subject which the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. D. Marshall) and I broached to him a few weeks ago. That is, the need for a thoracic surgery unit at Tehidy Sanatorium, in Cornwall. At a capital cost of £4,000 this unit could be brought into operation, and with the appointment of a specialist surgeon the 40 patients who are waiting, and have been waiting a very long time, in the sanatorium could receive treatment. The cost of maintaining them in the sanatorium is over £400 a week. Here is an instance of where Government expenditure can be watched very carefully and a saving made.
Perhaps the Minister is not aware that some of the Cornish patients who have been in the Hawkmoor Sanatorium, in Devon, are now unable to get treatment because the registrar has been dismissed and his position is not to be filled by one skilled in thoracic surgery. I hope, therefore, that the Minister of Health will be able to tell us that the thoracic surgery unit will be provided at Tehidy at once so that these patients can get the treatment that they need.
Reference has been made today to education. I am glad to see that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Education is present, because his Department have cut down the building programme of the Cornwall Education Committee. The reply which I got last week from the Minister on the subject of new schools provided in Cornwall hardly did justice to what had been done by the education committee. Strictly within the narrow terms of my question, presumably the Minister was correct. The right hon. Lady inferred that we had only three new schools in Cornwall 115 because the Labour Governments had not been sufficiently active.
The Minister knows of, and the Parliamentary Secretary can refer to, another letter I had from the Minister a few days ago, which indicated how much capital expenditure has been approved on various projects by her predecessors, including more than £100,000 as the first instalment of the Cornwall Technical College, which is doing such excellent work. I believe that the Minister has refused the education committee permission to continue at once with the extension of the technical college, an extension which is so necessary, particularly if we are to have all the trained technicians that we need. I can speak with great authority on Cornwall Technical College in a sense because I was clerk to the governors for many years and I have followed it from its inception.
The hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Beresford Craddock) drew attention to the amount of unnecessary legislation which, he said, had been passed by this House. On reading the Gracious Speech from the Throne of 12 months ago I could not help thinking of the Home Guard Bill, which detained this House for so long and which has proved to be such an utter failure. I think we are all agreed, on both sides of the House, that that was a quite unnecessary piece of legislation.
Many hon. Members have referred to Central Africa and Kenya. I believe numbers of questions will need the very careful attention of this House. I hope the Government are not going to force a Central African federation on the African community. In what Africa produces we want to reap the advantage of the capital we have sunk in Africa and of the skill of our pioneers—the skill of our people there today and the skill of the African people themselves. That is necessary not only to Britain but to the whole world and to Africa itself.
A new outlook is needed on Africa and on the problem of all the coloured subjects of our Commonwealth because the white races are losing the superiority which they have had in the last few centuries. We have to regard the coloured peoples of the earth as our brothers. We often profess that; we have to treat them as such. I hope, therefore, that the House will not come to any hasty decision which 116 will impair future relations of the white peoples and black peoples in Africa.
Speaking of the coloured peoples of our Commonwealth, I think of Malaya, a country where there are so many Cornishmen and where Cornishmen have played so great a part in its development. Nevertheless, one read yesterday in "The Times" that the workers on the rubber plantations in Malaya are facing reductions in wages. I recall that not many weeks ago tin companies in Malaya were paying 100 per cent. dividends.
These two factors have to be borne in mind when we are considering the future of Malaya. Malaya is not even mentioned in the Gracious Speech, but I hope that these considerations will be borne in mind and that we shall do all we can to further the interests of the people in Malaya including British people who have helped so much in its development and who are working there now.
To return once more to education, I could not help recalling, as my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. King) was speaking, of class legislation or the class attitude of the Tory Party in regard to education. A Tory Government retards progress in education whenever they have the opportunity, and perhaps one reason for this is that on their benches are 99 ex-students or pupils of Eton and Harrow. It is a fact which cannot be ignored. [An HON. MEMBER: "There are some on the hon. Member's side as well."] We may have one or two here, but that is surely an indication of the comprehensive nature of the Labour Party.
§ 8.56 p.m.
§ Mr. James Hudson (Ealing, North)
So much has been said about the Gracious Speech, its merits and demerits, that the nature of another speech, by no means so gracious, delivered by the Prime Minister, has perhaps not received all the attention which it should have received. I was a little mystified that the Prime Minister found it necessary to come and give us a second spasm and to explain to us that he had not meant all that he told us in the first instalment. After all, he has had a better chance than any other Member in this House to know what were to be the matters of importance in the Gracious 117 Speech, and a better chance, therefore, to prepare his own speech on the matter.
To have come here without apparent thought or consultation with his advisers, who surely could have saved him from the sort of mistake for which he ultimately came to apologise, is an astounding performance on an occasion of this sort. Indeed, that part of his speech is in line with the general lack of consideration of the importance of the problems with which he was dealing throughout the rest of his speech. There are so many examples of that that I shall not have time to deal with them, but I venture to dwell upon one.
The Prime Minister spoke about the Uthwatt Report, and the unsatisfactory position in which land, the ownership of land and the collection of values from land, now stands. He spoke, I thought, with a little nostalgia, remembering his earlier days in the Liberal Party and the taxation of land values. I am fairly certain that if he had stopped to consider all that he was saying today he would have been more careful. I say that because if the Government are to scrap the legislation now in being dealing with this question of land, however unsatisfactory that legislation may be in certain details, and I admit it is unsatisfactory—I said at the time it was passed that in several respects it would prove unsatisfactory—it has to be remembered that all that is left, at all events for the Prime Minister, is what he remembers of his old ideas, the taxation of land values.
I am not at all sorry that the Tory Party has at last arrived at the position where it feels that it will have to reconsider its attitude on that question. I am quite certain that if we on this side of the House remain strong and determined in our known views on the matter, we shall make an effective contribution to the discussions when this question comes up for the consideration of the House in greater detail.
I have always regretted that the end which both Lloyd George and, at a later date, Philip Snowden contemplated did not materialise. I remember I told him—for I was for a time his Parliamentary Secretary—that if ever he went with the Tory Party into a Coalition Government they would destroy every hope that he 118 had of dealing with this fundamental question of the land and the attaining of the values of the land for the community that created those values. And, before he had been a year in the Tory Party it was proved that my reckoning of the matter was correct. For he said himself in the House of Lords that he had been completely betrayed on that question. I am hoping that in the discussions now foreshadowed we shall be able to bring out again into public light the importance of further efforts to bring into the possession of the community great masses of value still left in the land.
I should like to dwell on other illustrations on the same point, but I got up to speak, not, may I say, about the subject that usually interests me in this House, but on a very different subject, because, like so many of my hon. Friends, I have been very strongly pressed to do so by organisations in my constituency.
I have wondered as I listened to the discussions today why it is that hon. Gentlemen are pressed by their constituents to deal with the question of their schools, and about the housing question, and all these other questions which come along. I occasionally get letters about all these matters from people in my division, but nothing like the number of letters which I get regarding the first matter referred to in the Gracious Speech, the first sentence after the personal references:I earnestly pray"—those are the words that the Government put into Her Majesty's mouth—that in Korea an early armistice will be arranged.That is the matter I hear about from people in my division. Apparently it is the matter that Eisenhower and Stevenson in America have heard the most about. I get letters from trades union branches, women's guilds, churches and meetings of the United Nations.
A meeting recently in the town hall at Ealing was addressed, not by myself, but by a distinguished hon. Member of this House—by no means the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro), but the hon. Member who usually sits in front of him—the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke). He had enough time to spare from the troubles in his own division to come and 119 talk in mine. I am very glad he came. He delivered an excellent speech, and if he will come again I shall be delighted. The people at that meeting were all concerned about this question of an armistice in Korea. I want to ask where we are getting to in this first matter in the Gracious Speech.
I see the Speech goes on and says that:the continued participation of My Forces in this conflict will be clear proof of My Government's whole-hearted attachment to the ideals of the United Nations.I should have thought that it was more a clear proof that "My Government" was in favour of the continued participation and use of "My Forces" in Korea, and not much more than that.
§ Mr. Hudson
It is not what I want to have done; it is a question that, at the moment, when we are dealing with an earnest prayer to secure an early armistice in Korea, the main need apparently is the continued participation of our Forces in the conflict.
I want to submit, and perhaps this applies to all parties in the House, that all of us ought to do some reconsidering of this matter, as, indeed, in America at the present moment, they are doing a good deal of reconsidering. The Presidential Election is taking place, but, whoever is returned, we shall hear a good deal more about this matter.
I should like to remind hon. Members of my own party what it was to which we committed ourselves at Morecambe, and what we still stand for, in every sense of the word. It was stated in a resolution which was carried at the Labour Party Conference that no opportunity of negotiation should be lost—meaning with the U.S.S.R. and with China. I say that to the Government today, and I hope the Government will say it to the Americans.
I have got a piece of evidence—indeed, the whole House will have it, if hon. Members have followed the Press this weekend—that certain opportunities of negotiation clearly have been lost. Mr. Nehru was speaking at the end of last week, and was reported in the "Manchester Guardian" as denying that any informal approach had been made to India to intervene in the negotiations.
120 I should have thought that, after our failures to get some sort of result, after all the suggestions from one quarter and another that have been made, we should have tried a definite approach to India in order to ask from India what they could offer and what intervention they could usefully make. I should have thought we might have said to India, "What intervention can you make in this, that or the other, or whatever it is we have to propose? Can you offer us something about the prisoners of war? With us in this country and with the Americans, the prisoners are an important matter, but we seem to be able to get nowhere on that question. Can you go into it and find a way out?"
I have read suggestions that the Indians have been talking about a way out on such lines. We may feel that it is not adequate, or, perhaps, we do not want to commit ourselves to it. Well, then, what proposal can we make that would bring in that well disposed country?
I am not trying to make a party point against the Conservatives. They had their responsibilities in the old days for making India very ill disposed towards this land, but it is not so now. I am assuming that we can make the best of that situation. Why, then, cannot we say to India that they should try where we and the Americans have failed?
Mr. Nehru goes on to say that in his judgment the issues over Korea are greatly narrowed. This is his view as reported last Saturday in the "Manchester Guardian." The differences are greatly narrowed, he says. He makes a statement which surprises me—and during the course of the debate, when the question of foreign affairs is reached, I should like to hear whether the Government accept this statement in full; for he goes on to say that both sides have now agreed that no force should be used in regard to the prisoners. I have not understood that the Chinese had accepted that position.
Indeed, to everybody who writes to me in my constituency on what should be said to the Conservative Government, I have always replied that if they are interested in this matter they ought to be sending resolutions to the Russian Embassy and to the Chinese authorities as well as to me, asking them to adopt an attitude over the prisoners which is 121 different from the attitude which they have insisted upon hitherto. But at any rate we have this question to face. If Mr. Nehru says that the issues have been so much narrowed that, in the question of the use of force over the prisoners, agreement has practically been reached, then surely efforts ought now to be made to take advantage of that situation.
I come to examine a little further what are the big alternatives which are left to us to face if all our efforts to secure some sort of armistice in Korea continue to break down. What is the alternative? The Americans are much better than we are at facing this issue. I am no anti-American; not a word I shall say to-night will have for its object the worsening of any relations between us and America, for I want to see friendship developed wherever it can be developed with all countries—
§ Mr. Hudson
—and all parties and potential enemies. I have always spoken in that sense, and I am sure that the hon. Member will agree that I generally try to take that line. But what is the alternative?
I have some words here from one of the most distinguished American columnist about the alignments of power and the organisation of power. I am quoting Mr. Walter Lippman, and I use his words because I get, free, gratis and for nothing every day, the newspapers which somebody in America sends me. I am very glad to have them. I read Mr. Lippman's words in the "New York Herald Tribune," given with great emphasis and large headlines. I want to remind the House of some words which I have no doubt many hon. Members have already read:We do not have nearly enough power today in the vast spaces of Eurasia and not nearly enough influence among the enormous masses of its people.When he says "we" he means the people of America and the West combined. He says:We are unable to force a decision in the cold war.And yet that is what we are trying to do in Korea; we are hanging on, with our men fighting on impossible heights, suffering death and mutilation, doing their best to force a decision in cold war and in 122 hot war. Mr. Lippman says we cannot force the decision in the situation which faces us. He goes on to say in another statement:The failure to contain the expansion of the Soviet orbit has created a situation where the Communist power is in numbers, area, strategic position already too big for the security of the Western Nations.In another statement he says again:The mass of our adversaries has already expanded beyond the critical limit where the balance of power can be stabilised. Even though we have succeeded, as seems probable, in establishing a balance of organised military power between the Soviet Union and N.A.T.O., the general balance of power in the world is unfavourable to us.That is the situation as a distinguished American sees it—the sort of American who will be listened to by both sides of the political controversy there. Believing it was in favour of a ruling authority in the world, the establishment of law in the world, the building of the power of the Western nations to hold back the recalcitrant and the aggressor, we have pushed our case in practice to such a point that now it has to be admitted by the more careful students that we have reached the position of the days of the old balance of power. We have reverted to that position—but worse than that situation, because the balance has been redressed against us.
That is the situation which this House confronts tonight, and which the Government confront when they earnestly pray for an armistice in Korea. We all echo those prayers. We must start again. We must go on trying. As the Labour Party—and I say this to my own Front Bench—we must go on trying to insist on the ways of negotiation and reason, where force is manifestly failing in every direction.
I have a further word or two to say about this. I ask the House to bear with me, because I propose to quote now from the authority of a religious organisation in which I am deeply interested. I have here a document which is published by the Quakers of America—the American Friends' Service Committee—a document about disarmament mainly, and written in order to prove that we must approach this problem of war or peace in the world along all the lines that are open to us—not merely to disarmament, but also the lines of negotiation.
It draws attention to the fact that we are little qualified for negotiations be- 123 cause we base so much of our attitude on the belief we learnt in the war, that the way to get a settlement is by practising superior force, and our minds respond to that attitude in situation after situation. If we are going to negotiate we have to develop a different attitude. We have to be willing to look at the other fellow's case. We may sometimes laugh at it; we may sometimes be angry with it; but there will be something in it if he continues to insist upon it, and as long as he insists on it we have to look into it, to find, if we can, the common touch with him.
As this document says:Negotiation requires a flexible attitude. A co-operative, open-minded, imaginative, patient and flexible attitude will gain more ground, even under provocation, than abuse. The true negotiator recognises that he is faced with a problem to be solved and an agreement to be made, not a debate to be won.
§ Mr. Hudson
Neville Chamberlain made his own contribution. In my judgment it was unsatisfactory because he came back with his piece of paper saying, "Peace in our time," but then went on deliberately and openly organising force. He was divided even at that point when he seemed to be feeling towards the spirit of negotiation.
This document goes on:The stiff back and braced feet is not the stance for negotiating, for the attitude of one side is invariably reflected in the attitude of the other. Phrases like ultimatum, final offer, unalterable demand"—unalterable demands, whether about prisoners or anything else, are not the language of negotiation—these invite a challenge of force or a humiliating surrender. Neither side can assume its position to be clothed in moral infallibility. If the position is sound it will gain respect.I say that we have a sound position on the question of the prisoners, a position that is capable of gaining respect. I think that we ought to persist in our view, but we ought to adopt the attitude of the negotiator and, as we break down round the conference table in Korea, look for another place and another method, still adopting the same attitude.
It is because I know that diplomacy is failing to secure the sort of ends for which I am now speaking that I address 124 the House in these terms. I close with similar words to those I used the other night, but at which some hon. Members laughed when I raised the same issue. It may be that I did not adequately relate what I was saying to the fundamental issues of the negotiating mind, to which I was trying to draw attention. I am trying to do so again now, for the failure to negotiate means the submission of our people to a process of destruction the like of which mankind in all his history has never experienced.
I remember the statement of the Prime Minister's the other night—and I do not wish to detract from its seriousness—when he told us what we had learned to do with the atom bomb: the vapourising of a vessel at a million degrees of temperature. Mankind has learned at last how to go into another world, if not as a pure spirit at any rate as a vapour. That is what science has taught us.
The laws of the spirit and the plea that has been heard from good men and good movements all through history, that we should seek to look at the other fellow's case and do unto him what we would he should do unto us, are today more important than they have ever been in history. I hope the House feels that I am qualified to speak as one who will pray, and earnestly pray, with the Government to bring about new efforts to secure peace in Korea, for if they fail they will have left the country to face a disaster of such a character that all else that we say about railways, land, steel, children's schooling and the housing of the people are of no moment, and are entirely irrelevant.
As my people are always telling me, and as every man who thinks clearly and who lives in London must know, the central issue is how to bring an end, for the time being at least, to this hopeless, wicked conflict. I am not stopping to say who was responsible for starting it, but it remains now a hopeless, wicked conflict between two forces, which are nearly balanced, engaged in a futile struggle which can bring in its train no good to humanity.
§ 9.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
I wish to endorse all that the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson) has said about the supreme importance of ending the war in Korea. The hon. 125 Member for Ealing, North has quoted some American opinions on Korea, and recently I had the privilege of going to China, of speaking with the Chinese people, and of trying to understand the point of view of the people of China about Korea.
The Chinese simply do not understand the point of view that in Korea the United Nations are carrying on a war for the liberation of Korea. Whether we like it or not, the point of view of the Chinese people is that this is an American war of aggression on the Asiatic continent. However much we may put the point of view—as I tried to put it—that Western opinion should not be portrayed as simply as that, the fact remains that the Chinese believe that in Korea they are resisting what they call capitalist, imperialist aggression.
I was very much surprised when I was in China to discover that there was no compulsory military service—no conscription. At first, I hardly credited that, and when I tried to explain to Members of Parliament that in China there was no compulsory military service—no conscription—they asked me, "How do you explain that immense army in Korea?" I asked the same question in China. I was told that it was the People's Liberation Army.
Again, I have been asked, "Is it possible that people would volunteer for the large-scale, modern war in Korea?" My answer to that was, and is, that Cromwell's Ironsides were not a conscripted army. There is today in China, whether we like it or not, a great national, patriotic spirit which is determined that the old regime shall not come back to China, the feeling that the war in Korea must be fought until the Western Powers abandon what the Chinese call the aggression policy in Korea.
I now want to say a few words about the germ warfare controversy. Everybody in China believes that the allegations about germ warfare in Korea have been proved. I went to the bacteriological warfare exhibition in Pekin, and it was impressive. I did not express any opinion in the visitors' book, as I was asked to do. I am not a biologist or a biochemist and I should not like to commit myself in a foreign country to something which might be used as propaganda against my own country.
126 However, if we want to rid the minds of the people of China and of Asia as a whole of the idea that the West will destroy them by methods of bacteriological warfare and has been experimenting in bacteriological warfare in Korea, the best thing we can do is to close our bacteriological research stations and say that on no account will we take part in a war of extermination of the people of the East by introducing the germs of plague, cholera and all the dreaded diseases which may be used in another war.
I join my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North in asking that we should once more look at the war in Korea and use every possible opportunity of getting international negotiation in order even now to try to bridge the great gulf of misunderstanding between ourselves and the Chinese people. What has happened in China is one of the most important events of our generation. Feudalism has been destroyed. China has a new régime which has control over the destinies of 500 million people, and it is in the interests of our people to establish normal trade relationships to enable us to support the Chinese application to be recognised as a member of the United Nations and to make peace with China and thus live on terms of friendship with a nation which has thrown over the trammels and shackles of 2,000 years of feudalism.
I believe that if we transfer the whole question of Korea to the United Nations and there look upon it not merely as an isolated incident in the international scene but as part and parcel of a settlement of the world issues between ourselves and the Communist countries we shall be finding the way out of the international dilemma which faces us and shall be going a way which may yet avoid our ending in a third world war.
In going to China I spent some time in Siberia where I had opportunities, which few people have had since the war, of talking to ordinary Russian people, soldiers in the Red Army, sailors coming back from Vladivostock and engineers travelling from one part of Russia to another.
§ Mr. Hughes
Yes, I do, and I was able to speak to these people in their own language. One of the great impressions 127 which remain in my mind is that there is among all sections of the Russian people just as great a desire for peace as there is among the people of this country.
The Prime Minister has told us that we are going to discuss the whole question of re-armament. What is the point of view of the Chinese people? I was in Red Square at Peking, and I saw the whole paraphernalia of tanks and guns with enormous masses of men pass through that city. I saw jet fighters going across the sky and I turned to some of my friends and said, "This does not look like a demonstration for peace." The reply was, "It is only for defence."
I said that that was an argument which was quite familiar to me because I had heard it used in defence of our own rearmament programme. When I put it to the Russians that the main reason why there was a re-armament programme in Britain was because of the huge Red Army, which was, presumably, ready to march on Western Europe, I was told by the Russians, "All our tanks, our Army and our Air Force are purely for defence."
During the forthcoming debate on our re-armament programme we shall hear the same argument. We believe that it is for defence. I submit that if we are to avoid the possibility of a third world war we have to realise that there are other points of view in the world. We have to cease being anti-Communist, and realise that we must live at peace with Communist countries and try to find the way out.
§ Mr. Hughes
I agree entirely.
Whether we live in capitalist or Communist countries we have to realise that a third world war will destroy us all. If we are prepared to agree on that basic assumption, then I believe that we can find our way to a new international policy. There is not only danger of war, but there is the great economic dilemma with which the world is faced, and I do not believe that we are going to solve it by having a conference on Imperial Preference.
The hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Beresford Craddock) outlined very 128 clearly the economic problems that now face the world. Whether we have a war or not, if we go on with our re-armament programme we are faced with the possibility of our overseas markets going to other nations while we engage on rearmament. As the hon. Member for Spelthorne said, we are faced with a Germany and a Japan which are reviving, a China closed to our markets, and the Americans, with their enormous productive machine, competing with us. We have not only to look upon this as a matter for an Imperial conference, but as something which should concern a world economic conference.
Early this year I risked unpopularity by going with Lord Boyd Orr to the world economic conference at Moscow. At that conference they did face up to the dilemma that confronts both the capitalist and the Communist world. The way to understanding what can be done is through a world economic plan, in which we should realise that the resources of the world are enough for us all, that we can plan, build and create a new civilisation if we avoid the tension and the feeling which could end in world catastrophe. These problems completely overshadow this debate, and the House should look at them with earnestness and realism.
The Prime Minister told me a week ago, in answer to a Question, that we should have an opportunity, in the debate on the Address, of discussing the whole strategy of the atomic bomb, but nobody has mentioned it up till now, although it is the dominating factor in future world strategy. The Prime Minister himself has said that the decisive decisions in the next war will be taken in the first month of the war, if not in the first week. The revelations that he made about the explosion of the atom bomb at Monte Bello showed what might happen if atomic bombs were exploded in half-a-dozen harbours in this country.
This indicates a new state of affairs to which the enormous re-armament programme sanctioned by the House during the last five years is almost irrelevant. I am glad that the party on this side of the House are beginning to think again about their programme of re-armament. The ex-Minister of Defence, who was the architect of the re-armament programme, now argues that one of the key issues of, it, conscription, must be revised. The party must think in terms of a new 129 alternative to the armament programme which they started during the last few years.
Practically every problem with which we are faced now comes back to very much the same thing; for example, the problem of agriculture. I have received a letter asking me to draw the attention of the House to the call-up of agricultural workers. It is rather curious that I am asked to raise this matter. When the ex-Minister of Labour raised it and said that the Government were going to take away the "blanket" from the agricultural workers, I earned the approbrium of the House for a few seconds because I made my protest.
Now, not only is the ex-Minister of Defence advocating that we should not call up the agricultural workers but I am being instigated by the National Farmers' Union in my constituency to ask the Government to end that call-up. I need not say that, generally speaking, the National Farmers' Union in Ayrshire are not enthusiastic about me, but I shall have a great deal of pleasure in returning good for evil and in doing everything possible to draw the attention of the Government to the question of the call-up of agricultural workers.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Lipton
If my hon. Friend casts his mind back, he will remember that almost one of the last announcements made by the Government in the previous session was that the Government were quite determined not to make any concession towards meeting the request of the National Farmers' Union.
§ Mr. Hughes
As a matter of fact, that was one of the reasons why the National Farmers' Union in my constituency decided to write that letter.
§ Mr. Hughes
If the hon. Member wants to see the answer, I shall give it to him in due course.
The farmers ask, quite rightly, what is the use of all these items in the Gracious Speech about agriculture, about subsidies here and there, and then taking away their labour? If we apply that situation of the farm worker to the workers in other industries, it will be found that every industry is in the same position. Engineering, shipyard, building—all the industries of this country are up against 130 the problem of re-armament and I say that this is the problem we shall have to face during this Session.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tradeston (Mr. Rankin) spoke about the housing programme. Everybody knows that we could find additional building workers to go ahead with the building programme if we did not call them up for two years, and if we also exempted the people employed in manufacturing for the building industry. We are faced with the fact that we cannot run Britain in this age, and meet the industrial and economic problems which now confront us, if we proceed with the re-armament programme.
There must be a retreat from rearmament and there must be a much bigger retreat than that suggested by the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan). I believe that we have to base our industrial economy and international policy on the plain fact that war cannot pay this country any more, that from every point of view—whether from the point of view of living in the atom age or of economic survival in a world which is changing as it is—we have to face the fact we cannot go ahead with this re-armament programme.
We have to be on the side of a constructive international policy which will bring peace and disarmament to the world. It is the urgent necessity and the urgent duty of everybody in this House to give serious attention to these problems in the light of the facts which are now evident to us all.
§ 9.48 p.m.
§ Mr. S. S. Awbery (Bristol, Central)
There is one paragraph in the Gracious Speech to which I want to draw the attention of the House, because it gives me an opportunity of raising a matter which I have tried to draw to the attention of the Colonial Secretary for a number of months. In the fourth paragraph we read:My Ministers are determined to make ever closer that co-operation with the other Members of the Commonwealth and with the Colonial Empire which must be the keystone of our policy.As you are aware, Mr. Speaker, I have been particularly interested in the circumstances in Malaya and in the development of the trade union movement in that area. I am satisfied that the complexities of our industrial system, not 131 only in this country but in our Colonies also, demand that there should be a trade union movement. What kind of a trade union movement that will be must be determined by the circumstances. Many of us are aware of the circumstances that prevailed in Malaya in the early part of 1948 when a political organisation endeavoured to capture the trade union movement and used that movement for political purposes.
That has now been changed, and we are hoping and trying to develop the trade union movement on the right lines. We have sent to the Federation and to a number of Colonies men experienced in the trade union movement of this country, in order to give the industrial workers the direction that is essential if they are to build the right kind of trade union movement similar to what we have in this country.
The Government have done much to help, but there is something that they should do but which they have not done. During the past three or four months, I have received cables from Government Departments in the Federation. My purpose in speaking tonight is to draw the attention of the Minister to the fact that some of the replies he has given to my Questions during the past few months are quite contrary to the information which is sent to me. I therefore suggest to the Minister that he should examine the position more closely when Questions are put to him.
I want particularly to draw the Minister's attention to the Service Departments. If we expect employers in the Federation to recognise and to encourage the trade union movement, we here should do all that we possibly can in the same direction. But what do we find happening? At the Singapore naval base there has been trouble for a considerable time. Claims were made a long time ago by the employees for improved conditions, status and wages. The matter extends, in fact, over three or four years, but the men cannot arrive at any satisfactory conclusion with the Admiralty.
When I put a Question recently the Colonial Secretary gave me to understand that he was satisfied that everything was in order at the naval base and that one or two outstanding matters were 132 being dealt with. Only last week, however, I received a cable to say that matters were not being dealt with and that men at the base were threatening to strike. If the men were to strike, it would be said at once that the Communist Party were behind it. I want to say before a strike takes place that, if it should occur, it is because of the dilly-dallying attitude of the Government in regard to the position at the naval base.
What applies to the naval base is applicable also to the civilian employees of the Army. They have submitted claims, but the same delay is taking place. I urge the Colonial Secretary, the Admiralty and the Secretary of State for War to go immediately into this matter if trouble is to be prevented. Once there is trouble, either in the naval base or among the civilian employees of the Army, it would spread like wildfire. We want to prevent that, and we can do so. We can build up a good feeling among the trade unionists of Malaya, not only in the Service Departments but in the plantations and in the tin mines, and we can do something that is worth while. Our failure to do so would be an encouragement to the Communist Party. If the men make applications for something that is reasonable and nothing is done, I know of nothing more likely to drive them into the hands of the Communists.
It is not only the claims that the men submit, but the continual delay in dealing with claims, that causes the trouble. The trouble is greater over the delay, in fact, than over the question which the men have submitted to the employer. I say to the Government that if we are sincere in our endeavour to build up a trade union movement and to encourage its development on the right side, an ounce of practice is worth a ton of theory. If they got the representatives of those organisations around a table and discussed the problem with them I think they would do something worth while.
I say to Ministers, particularly the Colonial Secretary, that there has been, not only in Malaya, but in other Colonies, a tremendous awakening among the industrial workers. We have to give direction to their aspirations. How are we to do it? If we direct them in the right way we shall have the right kind of trade union movement and the right kind of negotiating machinery set up, but, if we 133 neglect to give them direction someone else will come in. Who is coming in if we do not do it? We shall have the Communist Party and the Communist Party will give the direction they desire. That is a thing which we ought to try in all earnestness and sincerity to prevent.
I frequently speak to some of the workers from the Colonies when they come to this House. They are anxious to follow the lead we have given them, but they are also anxious to have the sympathetic understanding and support of the movement in this country and the sympathetic understanding and assistance of the Government. The Government have sent trade union leaders out to a number of Colonies and I think they are doing very good work under very difficult circumstances. I urge the Government to send more out if they want the right kind of machine built up. If they do not want that, do not send them out and we shall have the wrong kind of machine and the same trouble as in Malaya and, perhaps, in kenya.
§ 9.58 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Marcus Lipton (Brixton)
I am very pleased to see the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government present, because my object in rising to take part in this debate on the Address is to draw attention to the Interim Report of the Working Party on Requisitioned Properties in Use for Housing. That Report has just been issued. I regret that it was only after some difficulty that I managed to ascertain that this Report was in the Library and that only after special representation on the subject was made by me was it possible to peruse it.
This Report is likely to have a very considerable effect upon the future of many thousands of people who are tenants or, technically, licencees in requisitioned property up and down the country. According to an answer given by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, and published in the OFFICIAL REPORT on 30th October, 1952, Written Answers, col. 251, there were, on 30th June, 1952, some 82,000 dwellings held on requisition in England and Wales and the approximate number of families accommodated in those requisitioned premises amounted to 123,000.
I readily admit that the accommodation of those 123,000 families in those 134 requisitioned dwellings brings about an estimated cost to the Exchequer of something in the neighbourhood of £5,500,000 a year. I mention that figure of £5,500,000 a year because I noticed with some disquiet a reference in the Gracious Speech to the intention of the Governmentto reduce the heavy load of Government expenditure.It may well be that within this very heavy load of Government expenditure is included this—
§ It being Ten o'Clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed Tomorrow.