HC Deb 26 November 1952 vol 508 cc452-4
47. Mr. Noel-Baker

asked the Prime Minister to make a statement about the reduction of 25 per cent. to be made in the expenditure on the maintenance of Labour Attachés in Her Majesty's Missions overseas.

The Prime Minister

The reduction in the number of Labour Attachés is being made for purposes of economy. Five posts are being suspended, and £30,000 a year is thereby being saved out of a total of £170,000 spent on Labour Attachés. The posts to be suspended are China, Poland, Holland, Denmark and Venezuela. China has been vacant since February, 1951, and Poland since May, 1952. The work of the Labour Attachés in Holland and Denmark will be done by their colleagues in Belgium and Sweden, respectively. The Attaché in Mexico will be responsible for Venezuela. Instead of 20 Labour Attachés covering 51 countries, there will be 17 Labour Attachés covering 47 countries.

Mr. Robens

May I plead with the right hon. Gentleman to reconsider that decision? Does he not recollect that the idea of Labour Attachés was given birth to by his ex-wartime colleague in the Cabinet and the greatest Minister of Labour this country has ever had, the late Mr. Ernest Bevin, and that it was his considered view, with his great knowledge, that this was a real contact that was necessary in order to get the proper realisation of what the ordinary people of other countries were thinking and saying and to communicate that in the ordinary way through the embassies? Would he not—[Interruption.] This is a very serious matter. I am asking the Prime Minister.

Would the right hon. Gentleman not reconsider this and, at the same time, would he consult the T.U.C., who are doing a very great job in trying to get the Free Federation of Trade Unions free from Communist domination of the trade unions of the world? British Labour Attachés were of enormous advantage. I do earnestly ask the right hon. Gentleman if he will really reconsider this, and please consult the T.U.C. as to the advantages they found in having Labour Attachés to those countries?

The Prime Minister

I am always ready to consult the T.U.C., and I do not think the principle of having Labour Attachés attached to the different embassies has in any way been compromised or affronted by this perfectly necessary step in an all-round attempt to reduce expenditure on a great number of new offices created during the war.

Mr. Yates

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the most recent Report of the Select Committee on Estimates made reference to these positions abroad and called attention to the very satisfactory work that is being done? Would the Prime Minister reconsider this matter, and also the recommendation of the Select Committee that it was upon allowances, which had been increased from £400,000 to over £3 million, that economy could be made? Would not that be wiser?

Captain Waterhouse

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, however beneficial the work of these gentlemen may have been, the need for economy is paramount today, and that this decision will be welcomed by the country?

Mr. Noel-Baker

May I reinforce the plea to the Prime Minister made by my right hon. and hon. Friends? Does he not agree that this is a particularly bad time to do anything that will weaken the solidarity of the democratic forces in the world?

The Prime Minister

I think that democratic solidarity throughout the world will not be affected by there being 17 Labour Attachés instead of 20.

Mr. Bevan

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that every Minister of Labour since the war, including the late Ernest Bevin, attached very great importance indeed to these officers, and that in this disturbed condition of the world today it is a very serious thing indeed to cut us off from the sources of information which these Labour Attachés were able to obtain? Are there not other ways of reducing the establishments abroad without reducing the one single element that is beginning to alleviate the caste system in the legations?

The Prime Minister

I am naturally interested to see the right hon. Gentleman in his place, but I cannot feel that the question he has asked adds anything to the pith of our discussion.