HC Deb 29 June 1953 vol 517 cc33-105

3.34 p.m.

Mr. Aneurin Bevan (Ebbw Vale)

The part of the Vote to which I wish to ask the Committee to direct its immediate attention is that part which relates to the expenses of staffs overseas, and particularly labour attachés. As the Members of the Committee are probably aware, this matter has been referred to on several occasions in the last two years in particular, and the Opposition has now decided that the time has come to ask the Government to declare their views and intentions with regard to the future of this branch of the diplomatic service. But before I go into the details of the question, I should like the Members of the Committee to consider first of all the background of the position.

I think it will not be a surprise to hon. Members opposite that the Members of the Opposition have always considered that the members of the diplomatic corps overseas have always been recruited from far too narrow a section of the population. This was our contention before the war; it was our contention while the war was on; it is still our contention today. In fact, during the war, in 1943 so wide a recognition had been given to this fact that the Foreign Office, probably under the stimulation of the Labour Members of the Coalition Government at the time, demanded that there should be a change in the method of recruitment in order that we might have a diplomatic corps more widely based drawn from all sections of the community and with rather more sensitive antennae to all the problems of society than were possessed by the more exclusive section that was normally recruited in the diplomatic corps. It fact, it used to be said of the British Foreign Office abroad that they consisted of very scholastically-trained gentlemen who could be insular in a number of different languages.

The statement which was issued in 1943 ought to be studied by hon. Members in all parts of the Committee because it forms, as it were, the source book for the present debate. It says this, in the rather tepid language which the Foreign Office uses when it criticises itself: Among the criticisms which have been brought against the Diplomatic Service the view has been expressed that it is recruited from too small a circle, that it tends to represent the interests of certain sections of the nation rather than those of the country as a whole, that its members lead too sheltered a life, that they have insufficient understanding of economic and social questions"— that is indeed a masterpiece of understatement— that the extent of their experience is too small to enable them properly to understand many of the problems with which they ought to deal, and that the range of their contacts is too limited to allow them to acquire more than a relatively narrow acquaintance with the foreign peoples among whom they live. If I had said that, I should be accused of preaching the class war.

The statement goes on to say: These criticisms are often overstated and some of them have their origin in a misunderstanding of the functions of the Diplomatic Service. These functions are, broadly, to represent His Majesty's Government in foreign countries and to be their channel of communication with foreign Governments; …. I shall not read any more of that because it is all very obvious.

The statement goes on, in paragraph 4, as follows: It is, however, true that the conditions which the Diplomatic Service originally grew up to meet no longer exist unchanged in modern international affairs. Economics and finance has become inextricably interwoven with politics; an understanding of social problems and labour movements is indispensable in forming a properly balanced judgment of world events. The modern diplomat should have a more intimate understanding of these special problems and greater opportunities to study them than he has usually possessed in the past. His training and experience must be wider. The statement goes on to say that this will be the result of the reforms with which the White Paper dealt.

Mr. Cyril Osborne (Louth)

What is the date of that?

Mr. Bevan

It is Miscellaneous No. 2 (1943) Cmd. 6420.

In view of these statements, it is difficult to understand the policy of the Government, because it was in order to correct these admitted deficiencies in the Foreign Service that labour attachés were created in the first place. It was accepted that it would not be possible for normal diplomats to acquire the wide experience necessary for this work. Therefore, it was thought wise to create a number of special attachés. Indeed, I believe it is admitted that it was my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition who was responsible for the appointment of the first labour attaché at Washington. We are quite convinced—I think few hon. Members would deny it—that the establishment and extension of this service of labour attachés abroad was to a very large extent the result of the pressure of the late Mr. Ernest Bevin.

The fact that we are now discussing the Ministry of Labour Vote and not the Foreign Office Vote is indicative of the special position occupied by these people. They are not regarded as a part of the normal diplomatic establishment. When I was at the Ministry of Labour I found considerable grumbling on the part of officials of that Department. I discovered that labour attachés abroad resented the fact that all the while the pukka diplomats were seeking to undermine their status. It is no use hon. Members denying it because, in point of fact, we were told all the while that, though these attachés have a special responsibility, the diplomats always sought to alter the hierarchy inside the embassies so that labour attachés would not have direct access to the ambassador, but would be part of the staff, responsible to their immediate senior. It is no use hon. Members denying this, because they must not deny what hon. Members of the House say was their experience in their Ministerial capacity. I am sure that was also the experience of my right hon. Friend who followed me at the Ministry of Labour.

This attempt on the part of the Ministry of Labour to seek to bring the embassies abroad up to date was never popular with the Foreign Office and the members of diplomatic staffs overseas. There can be no doubt at all about the insularity of the staffs overseas. We had evidence of that before the war. For example, the present Chancellor of the Exchequer—who was then one of the Under-Secretaries of State at the Foreign Office—stated time after time in the House that they had found no evidence of Italian intervention in Spanish affairs. I am quite certain that the right hon. Gentleman would not mislead the House. The same thing was said by the present Foreign Secretary. They must have been relying upon the information coming from overseas, from Madrid and Barcelona. It is true that Italian intervention in Spanish affairs was very well known to everyone else, but it had not penetrated to the Foreign Office. There could be no better illustration of the ignorance of the diplomatic corps in a country of the character of Spain.

The great difficulty that they experience is that when they go to live in a foreign country they always move among those who have already arrived. Their social circle is always at the top, because usually their social circle here at home is at the top; and when they move from country to country they move from top to top. They move among the people who have been brought up in the same sort of way, who have the same frame of reference, the same system of association, the same social contacts, and the same expectations. It is of the utmost importance, if the Government are to be properly advised about what is happening abroad, that they be told about those who are on the way up, as well as about those who have arrived. Some, of course, are on the way up because they are being pushed up.

In other words, if we are to have a sensitive information service abroad it must contain individuals whose antennae are sensitised to catch the whispers of coming events. The trouble with diplomats abroad is that they are much more aware of events that are dying than events that are growing; and so over and over again we have found ourselves ill-informed about events.

Miss Jennie Lee (Cannock)


Mr. Bevan

All we can go upon is what we have been told. I once more repeat that I hope we are not being told falsehoods from the Front Bench, that we are being told the truth, that the ignorance they express is not counterfeit ignorance but genuine to their character.

I remember an incident immediately after the war to show that they have not changed. An hon. Member of the House went to a foreign embassy and met one of the senior officials. In a social exchange he was told that, of course, there was only one Minister in the Labour Government who really mattered, and that was Mr. Bevin. It was an undiplomatic thing to say, because the person to whom he spoke was a Labour Member of the House and a relative of a Cabinet Minister. That was hardly an example of tact, but it transpired that the official did not know the names of the other members of the Cabinet. So there is an example of what was apparently a tactless remark based on genuine ignorance.

At the present time there is an upsurge taking place all over the world; an incursion into political life of a large mass of enfranchised people formerly shut out from political affairs; an increasing importance attached to economic affairs and a part being played in public affairs by obscure people, not great names at all but individuals who have been pushed up in this vast insurgence which is happening all over the world. It is surely, therefore, of the utmost importance that we should have in our embassies abroad people of like mind, people who can not only report home what they have found is going to happen, but who can approach the inhabitants of other countries and speak in the same language. I do not use that expression in the formal sense, but in the sense that they are speaking about the same things, that they are interested in labour and trade union matters, and economic affairs. I do not mean someone who almost takes pride in his patrician ignorance of such mundane matters.

It seems to us that here we have an illustration of how the Conservative administration once more is reverting to its old form. Let us see what has happened. In December, 1945, there were nine labour attachés. It may be at once admitted that the reason for the small number from 1944 to 1945 was that many embassies abroad were closed to us. As they opened up, the possibility of sending more labour attachés grew. In 1946 there were 14; in 1947, 19; in 1948, 21; in 1949, 21. Then the figure reached the peak in 1950, at 22. Today there are 17. Far from their number being reduced, it is our view that they ought to be increased. They could quite easily be increased—if the Government wanted to save money—at the expense of other members of the diplomatic corps because it would be easy to identify a number of unnecessary ornaments.

The functions of labour attachés are to advise the heads of the diplomatic missions to which they are appointed; to ensure that Her Majesty's Government are kept fully informed of all important developments within their sphere of interests; and to make available information on British policy, practice and developments within their sphere of interests. In other words, their duty is not only to inform the Foreign Ministry here of what is happening there but also to inform people there of what is happening here. That is an exceedingly valuable function.

It is very difficult to see how the second function can be performed unless we have men of special interests. I am very sorry that the Minister of Labour, who we all know has great personal charm, has not been able to exercise more leverage on his colleagues in this matter. He has suffered a serious Ministerial defeat. We on this side would like to help him. In fact, it is probably correct to say that unless we had weighed in earlier the number of 17 would have been smaller still; but I think that we have arrested the rot. Perhaps when the Minister replies he will not express complacency. I do not expect him to criticise his colleagues, but I expect him to realise that we are trying to help him in a very difficult situation.

These five attachés were withdrawn from China, in 1951—we can all understand that—Peru, in May of that year; Poland, in 1952; Venezuela, in December, 1952; Holland, in January, 1953; and Denmark in March of this year.

Mr. Raymond Gower (Barry)

That is six, not five.

Mr. Bevan

I am not sure about the last one. The Minister of Labour might be able to tell us whether any more are intended to be withdrawn. A great difficulty is that Venezuela, Ecuador, Colombia and Bolivia were formerly covered from Venezuela, and these countries are no longer served by any labour attaché at all. This is a volcanic part of the world. It is always in eruption. One would have thought that of all places it was necessary to have somebody there because new things are happening all the time and always taking us by surprise—not only us but people there as well. One would have thought that this was a part of the world about which we ought to have some intimate information; but the attaché was withdrawn.

It seems to us to be extremely foolish to expect such large areas to be covered by one man. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that if we are to have a labour attaché with the responsibility of too many countries, it is a waste of money. He is useful only if his knowledge is intimate and immediate. He is not of much use if his information is merely a resumé of what has happened there in the last six months to a year. It is very much more important for us to know what are the movements of opinion, what are the currents, what are the possibilities.

I do not want to be invidious, but I know of some labour attachés whose work has been of the utmost significance. I used to meet them at the Ministry of Labour from time to time. I assure hon. Members that they are a very fine body of men. They are men of catholic experience and wide sympathies. They are very valuable public servants. It would be a mutilation of our Foreign Service if their number were reduced any more.

Let us consider the picture. The primary country—that is the country where the labour attaché is situated—Argentine, has to deal not only with Argentine but with Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay. There is an attaché in Austria. The primary country of Belgium has to deal with Luxembourg and Holland. There is not very much difficulty there. Egypt has to deal with Ethiopia, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Lybia, the Persian Gulf, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Syria. This seems to be foolish. There is more eruption in the Middle East than in any other part of the world.

The charge that has been brought against the British Foreign Office in the Middle East has been that of too close an identification with mediaeval survival and not sufficient affinity with the masses. Perhaps it might be said that the many mistakes that we have made there—and admittedly we have made a number—have been due to the fact that we have not had sufficiently intimate intimation of the movement of mass opinion. It seems absolutely astonishing that all these countries should be served by the one labour attaché for Egypt.

Then we come to the others. We have an attaché in Finland, France, Greece, India, Israel, Italy, Japan and Mexico. The attaché in Mexico serves Costa Rica, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama and Venezuela. The labour attaché in South-East Asia serves Burma, Indonesia, Siam and Indo-China. What an absurd picture this presents at a time when the vital interests of Great Britain are bound up in what is happening in these countries and in a proper assessment of the upsurge of social movement in those countries which is more important today than at any time in our history. We have one attaché in Spain, one in Sweden and one in the United States of America.

I do not wish to delay the Committee. I think that I have said sufficient to establish the importance of this question and the extent to which the Government are neglecting it. This is pinchbeck economy. This is economy in the wrong places. Here is a reduction of a very small sum in the Vote made where it can do most damage to our vital interests. I suggest that this is not because hon. Members in all parts of the Committee are not convinced of the importance of labour attachés but because a feud between the Ministry of Labour and the Foreign Office has resulted in a victory for the Foreign Office. That is why we on this side are anxious to hear from the Minister of Labour that the cuts are to be restored and the service extended.

4.0 p.m.

The Minister of Labour (Sir Walter Monckton)

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) was right in thinking that he would not have to persuade me of the value of the service which is under discussion today. He may think that I have achieved insufficient success in this direction since I have been in office, but I assure him that the feud has not been between me and the Foreign Office. I have found them to understand my point of view very well. I hope that by the time I sit down I shall have satisfied some hon. Members that we have perhaps exercised not so little leverage as the right hon. Gentleman feared.

I should like, first of all, to be sure that we get clearly in our minds what it is that this labour attaché service was meant to do and what it does. The right hon. Gentleman opposite quite rightly said what its functions were. The origin of the service was in September, 1942, when we first appointed a labour attaché in Washington, and the purpose was to promote contacts on matters of labour policy with the Government of the United States, to establish a relationship with workers' and employers' organisations in the United States and with other organisations and institutions concerned with industrial and social questions.

I think the idea behind it was that, not merely for the purposes of the war but after the war, in considering international labour and social problems, they would be of value in these contacts. Therefore, with the functions to which the right hon. Gentleman has already drawn the attention of the Committee, the first appointment was made.

We know that the principal task of these labour attachés lies in providing advice to the ministers and ambassadors whom they serve, but they also provide a kind of two-way traffic in making clear to people over there what our labour practices and problems are and informing us what they are in other countries. Her Majesty's Government are fully persuaded of the value of this work, and we intend that it shall continue.

The contact with Governments is important enough, but the contact with employers and trade unions is somewhat similar, as I found, to the sort of contact I was having in Geneva a week ago, where we got the situation in which Governments, employers and trade unions met in a field in which they could discuss common problems. I value these contacts, both here and through the labour attaché service, but I would add—and I think that here both the right hon. Gentleman opposite and also the right hon. Gentleman who succeeded him will agree with me—that the value of the work of the labour attachés is considerably increased by the fact that the people appointed to these posts are people who have had very considerable experience in industrial relations in the Ministry of Labour and National Service.

I say this for the reason that, for a short time, I felt a little uncomfortable when the right hon. Gentleman was speaking because I was one of these recruits to the Foreign Service, though on a temporary basis, during the war. I became a Deputy Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, but I was not much employed in that capacity, though I held the office. Therefore, I am not anxious to subscribe to criticisms of the Foreign Service, because I do know that many ambassadors have made clear to me, and no doubt to my predecessors, the value of the work of these labour attachés.

I am bound to say that, as far as my contacts with Ministers in the Foreign Office are concerned, I have not found this matter so unpopular as the right hon. Gentleman opposite seemed to fear I might have done. It may have been the charm, but I do not think it is. I would add that, quite apart from the praise of ambassadors for the work done by this service, I have taken steps to acquaint myself with the work going on at these centres, and I am quite sure that the work which has been done in France, Italy and Spain has been worth while. I have lost a private secretary, who also served both right hon. Gentlemen opposite, and who has now gone to serve as labour attaché in Italy, not because of his experience of administrative work in the private office of the Ministry of Labour, but because of his experience of industrial relations in the Ministry. I have now got someone to replace him who was our labour attaché in Brussels, a post which was not regarded as wholly unimportant in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman today.

If someone said to me, "What do you think most important of all the functions which labour attachés are called upon to perform?" I should say that it is to cement friendships on a new level in the countries to which they are appointed. I think it is right to say that they have to operate on different levels from some of those of the people who represent this country in other capacities. When we are told that in the past our information from Spain has been inadequate, I hope I may draw comfort from the fact that, in spite of all difficulties and differences, we have at this moment a labour attaché in that country.

The service is appreciated and will go on. What one has to do, in this as in other directions, is to provide an effective and efficient service with such economy as we can, in the present state of the nation's finances. It is all very well to say, as the right hon. Gentleman opposite said, that there are various ornaments we could do away with. If there are some who are ornamental, we can dispense with them, but we have to look at the service and see whether there are any economies that can be achieved. If there are, we have to achieve them. We believe that these labour attachés are necessary and we would like to see them proliferate, but we have to retain some sense of proportion in this matter.

I come now to the question of the difficulties and differences mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman. We have now 17 labour attachés covering 46 countries in all. In regard to the five who have gone—the labour attaché in Peru had gone before, and does not come into this discussion—there remain those to China and Poland. The one in China finished in February, 1951, while the attaché in Poland was not replaced when the post became vacant in May, 1952; and my view—though this is a matter for the Committee—is that it is extremely doubtful whether in existing circumstances there is scope for effective work by labour attachés in these two places. The countries in which there have been some recent changes are Denmark, Holland and Venezuela, which are the only other countries in which during the lifetime of this Government there has been any suspension of labour attachés.

Mr. A. J. Irvine (Liverpool, Edge Hill)

Would the right hon. and learned Gentleman amplify what he said about Poland, which seems to some of us to be the perfect example of a country where a labour attaché could perform extremely useful service?

Sir W. Monckton

If the hon. Gentleman wants to develop that, I hope he will be able to do so; but as far as China is concerned, I should have thought that the conditions which prevail there make it extremely doubtful whether it could be done. In regard to Poland, I think there is great room for doubt whether the money spent on a labour attaché in present conditions would be well spent, but if the hon. Member for Edge Hill (Mr. Irvine) wants to develop that, I am quite sure that he will have the opportunity.

I have to deal with the crux of the matter—the three other countries of Denmark, Holland and Venezuela. I am reluctant to see even this suspension of labour attachés, and it has not been done without the fullest consideration between all the Ministers concerned, including not only myself but the Foreign Secretary and those responsible for our finances. In all these cases, steps have been taken to see that as far as possible the work will go on from another centre. To take the case of Denmark, we have a labour attaché in Sweden who is at Stockholm, and since April, 1953, he has been combining the work in both countries from that centre.

Mr. M. Follick (Loughborough)

And Norway?

Sir W. Monckton

No, not Norway. Similarly, in Holland the change in regard to the attaché at The Hague was made in January, 1953. We do need to keep a sense of proportion in this matter. It is true that there has been a reduction from 20 to 17, apart from China and Poland, but steps were taken in all cases to try to cover the work. It is much too soon to say that the experiment will not succeed. I think we would all concede that, with modern methods of communication and means of travel, it may well be possible to work quite satisfactorily a labour attaché service from Stockholm to deal with Denmark and from Brussels to deal with Holland as well as Luxembourg.

Mr. Denis Healey (Leeds, South-East)

Is it not the case that the Swedish Labour attaché also covers Norway as well as Denmark?

Sir W. Monckton

I will check that and will correct myself if I am wrong, but I think not.

What I am anxious to put before the Committee is that it is not the case that it was not until now that we had a post in one country covering a number of other countries. What is happening in Egypt has been happening for a considerable time. Ten countries in all are covered from that centre.

I have taken pains to become acquainted with the work of the labour attaché in Egypt and I do not suppose there is any other country where the work of a labour attaché has been more satisfactorily and effectively done. Of course, when I am trying to exercise a little leverage, I do not overlook the assistant labour attachés. We still have our assistant labour attachés in Cairo as we have in the United States, in San Francisco and Chicago, and in Paris and elsewhere. We must not overlook the fact that we have experience, not only in South America, but also in the Middle East, of work being effectively done over a considerable area under the present system.

Therefore, I am entitled to say that though—if we exclude China and Poland—there has been this drop of three posts down to 17, we are effectively covering 46 countries. We shall see whether this experiment succeeds. In modern conditions, however, we have to try to match effective working with economic working. I am able to satisfy the Committee that the labour attachés are getting the proper assistance because none of the assistant labour attachés has been suspended or their numbers reduced.

Mr. James Hudson (Ealing, North)

Will the Minister state from where Venezuela is being covered?

Sir W. Monckton

Yes, from Mexico. It is quite true that Mexico covers a number of countries, and that has always been so.

Mr. Bevan

Because it was so while these labour attachés were being trained and the whole staff was being built up, it does not mean that this is a desirable experiment, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman is trying most insidiously to present it to the Committee. It is an expedient which has been introduced because the right hon. and learned Gentleman was forced to economise.

Sir W. Monckton

I think I am entitled to say that I was not the author of the scheme; I inherited it. It is not only under my guidance that we have had many countries covered from one centre. I hope that the Committee will agree that the economies made have been consistent with the effective continuance of the service. These economies are of a comparatively small kind. We shall watch to see whether they still enable the service to be effective. It is too soon to judge now.

The Government have continued to keep this matter under constant review in order that we may judge from time to time what can be afforded and also what is needed in order that the service may be effectively continued. I know that this is a matter which has been of great interest to the Trades Union Congress. I have kept in touch with them about it, and they know that if any additions are contemplated to the list of suspensions those additions will not be put into force without their having an opportunity of expressing their views upon the matter. It is an experiment and an attempt to continue an effective service in the face of the economies forced upon us by the national stringency in which we live.

Mr. Bevan

May I ask for some elucidation of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's last statement? He said that before any further suspension occurred—"suspension" in this case being the polite word for "removal"—the Trades Union Congress would be consulted. What about Parliament?

Sir W. Monckton

Yes. The last thing in the world that I would wish is that this should happen behind the back of anybody. All I was saying was that we have been specifically asked to discuss the matter with the T.U.C. I said I would, but the matter would still come before Parliament.

It is not enough merely to complain that three labour attachés have gone until it is shown that the work cannot effectively be done with that measure of reduction. I ask the Committee to appreciate that such leverage as there is has been exerted, is being exerted and will be exerted.

Mr. Alfred Robens (Blyth)

Is it in the Government's mind to reduce the staff of the labour attachés still further, or can the right hon. and learned Gentleman give an undertaking that there will be no further reductions at all?

Sir W. Monckton

I am certainly not in the position to give an undertaking that there will be no reductions from now onwards. All I can say is that we have had these discussions over the period that I have been in office. This is how the position stands at present, and, so far as I know, there is no contemplation of an immediate reduction or suspension of any other posts. There have been posts under consideration, and we shall always have to review them.

It may be that in a particular country we shall find that the service is no longer justified, in which case it would be our duty to say that it was no longer justified, or again, the position may get so much worse financially that we cannot afford to do what we are doing now. I think I have said enough to demonstrate that we are maintaining this service effectively and that the reduction which has taken place, consistent with economy, does not impair the efficiency of the service.

Mr. Bevan

Are we to have a further statement from the Government? I do not think we can leave the matter where the right hon. and learned Gentleman has left it. Is anybody else going to speak for the Government tonight?

Sir W. Monckton

That depends on the course of the debate. I thought it convenient to state the position, but the debate will demonstrate whether it becomes necessary to have a further statement from the Government.

Mr. Ivor Owen Thomas (The Wrekin)

The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that contact had been made with the T.U.C. to secure their observations in regard to any proposed reduction in the number of labour attachés. Can he say whether that step was taken before the reduction in numbers which he has mentioned was made, and if so, what were the observations received from the T.U.C.?

Sir W. Monckton

I do not think I can be asked to deal with that point. It was not I who approached the T.U.C., but the T.U.C. who approached me when some reductions were made, and asked that, if further reductions were contemplated, I would consult with them. As is my practice, I said I would.

4.19 p.m.

Mr. Maurice Edelmnan (Coventry, North)

I always find a certain difficulty in attacking the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Minister of Labour. His good will is obvious, his amiability has an immediate effect, and he has shown that he is prepared to discharge his Departmental duties by consulting the T.U.C. about any steps he may take in connection with the labour attachés. But, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) has shown, the matter is much more than a Departmental matter.

This question of labour attachés goes to the whole root of our foreign representation. Indeed, it is significant that those who wish to reduce the number of labour attachés in the spurious interest of economy are precisely those who wish to cut down our contribution to U.N.E.S.C.O. and to the services of the British Council and to limit our contribution to the Save the Children Fund. In fact, they may be described as eligible candidates for the International Society of Book Burners.

If we consider the history of labour attachés we see how they sprang directly from a desire which was apparent in the House during the Coalition Government to reform the whole of the Foreign Service. It was not coincidental that the first labour attaché was sent to the United States during the war. The reason was that the pressure of events had made it clear that if we were to win the war we would have to associate with us the American labour movement. It was an immediate and practical step to send a labour attaché to the United States. The principle was accepted and became a precedent. From the document on Reform of the Foreign Service, which was quoted by my right hon. Friend, I wish to read one short extract. It is: It is said that economics and finance have become inextricably woven with politics. An understanding of social problems and labour movements is indispensable in forming a properly balanced judgment of world events. That was something novel which, in the history of official diplomacy, had not been accepted as a principle by this Government or by their supporters. When the war ended, there was some attempt to enlarge the scope of the Foreign Service and to get away from dynastic diplomacy. It was recognised that what was important in the foriegn relations between one country and another was not simply the activities of a few families at the top, as my right hon. Friend has said, but the opinion of the great mass of the people overseas who had, in the most literal sense, become the ruling classes in the democracies which had been created.

I speak of real democracies and not of the so-called totalitarian democracies. I mean the real democracies which had escaped totalitarianism and the other formerly democratic countries who, having escaped from occupation, had returned to democracy. It was natural that the late Mr. Ernest Bevin appointed a labour attaché to Italy, and one of his first tasks was to get into touch with the Italian labour movement in order to help in the reconstruction of the Italian trade unions. Everyone who knows the great work done by Mr. Brain will know that the re-creation of the Italian trade union movement was in large measure due to his efforts.

What happened? My right hon. Friend said during his speech that the new labour attachés, these new diplomatic representatives, were immediately the object of the jealousy of the professional diplomats. I do not say all, but it is undoubted that there were many professional diplomats who resented deeply this intrusion of men who had not been through the formal diplomatic training customary in the Foreign Service but had been appointed in order to keep the Government of the day informed of what was going on abroad and to keep those abroad informed of what was going on in our country.

In those days there were many in the established diplomatic and foreign services who were not only lacking in sympathy with Labour Governments of the time in their personal, private business, on which one would not seek to reproach them; but in their public appearances and public activities many showed not only indifference but, in practice, actual contempt for the Government which at that time they purported to represent. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I shall be delighted, as I see the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs is here, to give him instances by way of illustration, either now or privately. I think it would be more appropriate to do it privately.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Anthony Nutting)

The hon. Gentleman has made a very serious charge indeed, that members of the diplomatic service in the days of the Labour Government showed contempt—I think I have it correctly—for the Government which they represented, in public, deliberately and on purpose. I really think that an hon. Gentleman who makes statements of that kind must either substantiate them or withdraw them.

Mr. Bevan

I gave one instance in my statement of where a senior member of the diplomatic corps at an embassy function expressed his almost contempt for particular members of the Cabinet by selecting one for praise and suggesting that none of the others were any good. He could not speak more disrespectfully of the Government, could he?

Mr. E. H. C. Leather (Somerset, North)

Surely the right hon. Gentleman said that that was a foreign diplomat?

Mr. Bevan

No, I said he was one of our senior diplomats at an embassy function of our own who used those words.

Mr. Edelman

I have no intention of withdrawing what I said. On the contrary, it is my wish—but not now, because it might not be fair to the diplomat concerned—in private to substantiate what I said to the hon. Gentleman who rose to challenge my statement. My hon. Friends may wish me to give the illustration which I have in mind, but I am reluctant to do so because I do not believe that it would be fair at this moment to give the example and the name of the diplomat who would be the object of my charge.

Mr. Nutting

If the hon. Gentleman does not think it fair to give it, does he think it fair to make the allegation?

Mr. Edelman

Certainly, because I was stating a general principle. Perhaps I may correct something said by the Joint Under-Secretary of State. He said that I spoke generally of our foreign representatives. I said some foreign representatives. He will see that in HANSARD tomorrow. I am glad he said that, because in the report of the Foreign Service, which has already been quoted, the following statement is made: The art of diplomacy consists in making the policy of His Majesty's Government of the time, whatever it may be, understood and if possible accepted by other countries. That is from Cmd. 6420 "Proposals for the Reform of the Foreign Service."

In order to do that, one of the steps which were taken by the Foreign Secretary at the time was to try to strengthen the status and raise the prestige of the labour attachés. I know that in the case of the labour attaché in Italy in 1946, it was Mr. Bevin's intention to try to establish a direct channel of communication in order that he might be apprised of what was going on in that country in the Italian trade union movement. There was the professional jealousy which I have already mentioned, and there was resistance to the endeavours of the labour attaché at the time not only to give the Government information of what was going on but resentment at the fact that he was in intimate contact with the Italian trade union movement.

The result, as we know, was that, instead of the Italian trade union movement being constantly influenced by the democratic example of our trade union movement, and of our Government, as urged by our labour attaché on the spot, the Italian labour movement came almost wholly under Communist influence. Today the position within the trade unions is one in which democratic trade unionists are at a serious disadvantage simply because the Communist trade unionists, with encouragement and backing from outside, have been able to dominate the trade union scene.

Mr. G. B. Drayson (Skipton)

Is not the hon. Gentleman suggesting that the function of the labour attaché is to reorganise the trade unions in the country to which he is accredited?

Mr. Edelman

No. I say that the function of the labour attaché is to give whatever information may be desired about the trade unions in his country in order that any trade unions overseas who seek to reorganise themselves on the pattern and example of the trade unions of this country may have the guidance which they seek. That, in fact, is what happened originally in Italy but, and this is precisely my point, it was because of the desire of the diplomatic service to limit and restrict the function of the labour attaché that our labour attaché there, who had begun so well, was not allowed to develop and extend his work.

Mr. Drayson

This is very serious. Is the hon. Member aware that we were required by the Italian Government to limit the activities of the labour attaché in Milan and that is why his work was cut down?

Mr. Edelman

That may very well be. I do not doubt that for a moment. My straightforward and simple point is that the Government of the day in this country should raise the prestige and encourage the activities of our labour attachés overseas in order that they can keep in intimate contact with foreign trade union movements and encourage and help them.

What is true of Italy is also true of France. There the trade union movement has unhappily fallen into hands of the Communists. Instead of the trade union movement of our nearest neighbour being influenced and assisted by the example of the trade union movement in this country, that too has fallen into the hands of the Communists. It is part of my argument that we should do whatever lies in our power to fertilise the Foreign Service with new men and new thought.

The day has long gone when palace revolutions and the intrigues which circulated round the prince or junta were decisive in determining the nature of the Government. Those days have gone. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about Moscow?"]. I am quite prepared in digression to consider that point, but even in Moscow the fact that Stalin died has not meant a radical revolution in the country as a whole. Moscow continues. It is for that reason that I urge that we must have men who are in the closest contact with popular movements abroad and those men can only be the labour attachés in whose fate the Minister of Labour is in part acquiescing.

Although so far I have been talking of diplomacy in the higher level, it is well known that there are overseas many diplomatic representatives at consular level who often suffer from an ailment known as "consulitis." It is an ailment arising from the fact that they have been a long time abroad. They have not been refreshed by renewing their acquaintance with the scene at home and, consequently, through this separation they are divorced from contemporary society at home in Britain. That is why there was a great gap, which was most noticeable when the Labour Government were in power, between their understanding of what was going on in this country and the reality of the great social revolution which had been taking place in Great Britain.

The question before the Committee is whether this Government are really in earnest when they pay lip service to the principles which were enunciated in the White Paper on the reform of the Foreign Service, or whether they are really determined to turn the clock back and imagine, for this is purely illusory, that we can go back to the time when diplomacy was merely something determined between the aristocracy of one country and the aristocracy of another.

Mr. Gower

Would the hon. Member establish all that from what the Minister has described as a moderate curtailment for very necessary reasons of economy?

Mr. Edelman

Certainly, I regard the curtailment as a symptom of an evil disease, as expressing the derangement which exists in the mind of the Government on this question of our overseas representation.

There is still going on a great struggle for men's minds not only in Europe but throughout the world. One of the most appalling things that we heard this afternoon was not just the fact that in Europe there had been a reduction in the number of labour attachés, but the fact that overseas, particularly in Asia, now at the moment when the pressure put on by the Communists is greater than it ever has been, at this very moment when the struggle for the mind for Asia is being intensified, there should be this malevolent decision to reduce the number of labour attachés. It is shameful.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman put up an adequate reply for his Department, but this matter is something which goes far beyond a Departmental issue. It is representative of the whole outlook of the Government, of the outlook which has already made such deep wounds in the social progress of this country. I hope that the Government will not persist in the error of their ways and deepen the greater wound which they are inflicting on Europe and Asia.

4.36 p.m.

Mr. E. H. C. Leather (Somerset, North)

If this debate serves to do no more than publicise and concentrate interest upon the work of labour attachés it will have served a very useful purpose. There is nothing to argue about on either side of the Committee on the value of the work that they are doing, the desire that it should continue and the hope that it certainly will not be curtailed. I do not think that there has been any legitimate difference of opinion across the Floor of the Committee yet.

The process of self-criticism, which seems to be so popular in Left-Wing circles these days, I have seldom heard carried further than it has been this afternoon. Every single defect of which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) and the hon. Member for Coventry, North (Mr. Edelman) have complained were things that happened or did not happen when they were in power. The main criticisms concerned South-East Asia and the Middle East. The hon. Member for Coventry, North said how scandalous was the state of affairs there.

But this great "volcanic eruption," if I quote the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale rightly, took place some considerable time before my right hon. and learned Friend went to the Ministry of Labour. It took place during the time when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale was at the Ministry of Labour, and surely there was a very good case at that time for increasing the number of attachés in South-East Asia and the Middle East. But the right hon. Gentleman did not do it. We on this side of the Committee have not cut them down in South-East Asia or the Middle East.

Mr. Bevan

The hon. Member is introducing a polemical note into an otherwise peaceful discussion. It could hardly be said that the upsurge in South-East Asia occurred when I was at the Ministry of Labour. I forget how many months I was there. It spread over a slightly wider period than that; and even for the purposes of polemics the hon. Member ought not to commit so many outrages against history.

Mr. Leather

I apologise humbly to the right hon. Gentleman. I made the mistake of assuming that he sometimes shares the responsibility of his Cabinet colleagues, but apparently he does not. The right hon. Gentleman told us that he spoke from experience, and he told a long and bitter story of his feud with the Foreign Office. I have no doubt that when he was Minister of Labour and his right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) was at the Foreign Office there was a feud, but there is certainly no evidence of any feud now between my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Labour and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. Certainly no evidence of it has been produced this afternoon.

There are only three cases, with which my right hon. and learned Friend has dealt—Venezuela, Holland and Denmark—and it is clear to anyone that these economies can be effected and the work can be carried on with a saving of money without damaging the Service in any way. That is the only valid point of criticism which the Opposition can make against my right hon. and learned Friend. All this talk about South-East Asia and the Middle East is quite unjustified, because the conditions there remain as they were when the party opposite were in power. There have been no reductions. If hon. Members opposite wish to carry this process of self-criticism further, I shall be happy to listen.

Mr. Percy Daines (East Ham, North)

The main case put forward by the Minister is on the grounds of economy. Can the hon. Gentleman tell us whether similar economies have been effected in other parts of the diplomatic service?

Mr. Leather

I am sure that if they have, the hon. Gentleman will be aware of them. In any case, if I pursue that subject I shall be called to order. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] Because we do not happen to be discussing the diplomatic service. We are discussing labour attachés. The question of general economies in the diplomatic service can be dealt with at the right time.

Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)

In order to relieve the hon. Gentleman of the embarrassment of developing an argument which I am sure he is bursting to develop, may I ask, Sir Charles, if it would be out of order to discuss whether any other economies have been practised in the diplomatic service?

Mr. Osborne

Further to that point of order——

The Chairman

Order. I cannot answer a hypothetical question.

Mr. Bevan

In order to assist the Committee, I submit that to show whether this Service has been disadvantaged or not or whether it has been sought out quite capriciously for reductions as against other Services, it would be quite in order to show whether there have or have not been similar analogous reductions in other parts of the diplomatic service.

The Chairman

I think a reasonable argument can be employed. I will stop anything which I think is out of order.

Mr. Leather

I promised to be brief. My last word on that subject is that my hon. Friends and I are satisfied that the days of capricious action on the part of the Ministry of Labour ceased when the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) ceased to be Minister of Labour.

I only wish to put one other point to my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Labour whose case surely is obvious and unanswerable. On this question of the further possibility of reduction, I ask him to bear in mind the weight of opinion which is behind him on these benches in resisting any such incursions in the cause of economy or anything else. I hope that before this debate is over either he or the Parliamentary Secretary will deny rumours which are current that economies are contemplated amongst the assistant attachés in various parts of the United States. I believe that the rumours are not true, but I hope that we may have that confirmation from the Minister before this discussion concludes. If this debate denies that rumour and gives a general wider understanding of the excellent and devoted work that these men have done and are doing, it will have served a useful purpose and it will certainly have served completely to vindicate my right hon. and learned Friend, the most successful Minister of Labour since Ernest Bevin.

4.44 p.m.

Mr. A. J. Champion (Derbyshire, South-East)

I am bound to agree with the hon. Member for Somerset, North (Mr. Leather) in that this debate serves to focus attention on a matter of tremendous importance, and that is the position of our labour attachés and assistant labour attachés in various parts of the world.

I would not agree with the hon. Member in his references to the actions of the Labour Government, because obviously that was a period of development. It was a period of experiment the results of which were ample justification for the decision which was originally taken by the man whom I regard as the greatest Labour Minister we have had in this country, the late Ernest Bevin, who did such a magnificent job and started this whole experiment which was continued by the Labour Government.

It was developed to the point where we had some 22 labour attachés in various countries in the world. What we are discussing today is not that experimental period. We are not discussing expansion. At the moment we are discussing contraction—contracting from these 22 who were appointed, down to the 17 that we have today—and the fear that this desire for economy might go beyond the five and indeed might be continued throughout the rest of the embassies where we have these labour attachés appointed.

The work of these people is of paramount importance to this country at this time when we see developments going on all over the world which have been so well described by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan). I was rather sorry that the Minister did not tell us how much he expects to save as a result of cutting down from 22 to 17. Recently I saw some figures which led me to believe that as a result of his action he was going to save something in the nature of £40,000 a year.

Sir W. Monckton

It is in the order of £30,000.

Mr. Champion

Then the figure that I was given was something of an exaggeration. It is a trifling sum, and it is being saved at the expense of a great service. It is a derisory saving when we realise the expenditure that we are making in connection with the prosecution of possible future wars and when we remember that this service may do much to prevent a future war. Here we are saving £30,000. It is something like one-eighth of the cost of a big bomber. We are going to save that in a service of this sort.

I am sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman, after his experience in the Ministry where he has performed an excellent service, must realise that the trade unions are playing an increasingly important part in every democratic country in the world. They are not now only participating in the ordinary job of the trade unions as we used to understand it, but more and more are they participating in supporting and advising the Government in urgent matters of foreign affairs and so on. He will know of the work in the United States of America of the C.I.O. and the A.F. of L. Both of those trade union organisations have been leading protagonists of Truman's Fourth Point, a point which I hope is not going to be dropped but rather sustained because of the great necessity for it.

If these trade unions can do that and if we can do anything here to help them in that respect, we shall certainly be doing a first-class job of work. Ernest Bevin not only saw the way in which these trade unions were developing and the increasing part that they were playing in foreign affairs, but he did something to help, and that was by appointing these labour attachés. Having seen, he acted.

There was at first, I agree, some suspicion of these labour attachés in the various embassies. These people, in the main, had a different social standing from that of many of the people who at that time occupied the embassies of Great Britain throughout the world. But I would say, in fairness to those people who occupied those positions at that time, that eventually they came to recognise the value and importance of these labour attachés to this country. Having met and talked to some of them about the work of these labour attachés, I have received their assurance that they do value the work which those labour attachés are doing.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that we have 17 labour attachés covering the work of 40 countries. That is almost derisory. As he rightly said, this making of contacts is a two-way traffic. It is not merely a question of our people giving information, but also of their receiving information from the people of other countries. If they are not in daily contact with these people, much of the value of the work of labour attachés or assistant labour attachés is inevitably lost. If they have to make occasional trips to a country by aeroplane they are not able to establish real contacts with the sort of people they ought to be meeting.

I have had some little experience here. I had the good fortune to investigate labour relations with Norway a short time ago. I found that this work was something of tremendous value, not merely to the Norwegians or to trade unionists over there but also to us, in the creation of a better understanding between two great democratic countries. Investigation in Denmark enforced that opinion, and on a lecture tour in the United States of America, where I met labour attachés and assistant labour attachés, I found what an advantage it was that there were people there who were able to meet trade unionists and talk in a language which trade unionists of all countries can understand.

They did not talk merely in terms of "Mr. This" or "The honourable Somebody or other" but in terms of "Bill," "Joe," "Tom," and "Dick." That is the level which anyone wishing to secure close understanding and contact will find of tremendous value. They were also able to talk in the trade union jargon which is common to us all. It seems that every group of people has a certain jargon which becomes understandable over international frontiers. This applies to trade unions, and the jargon is spoken by the labour attachés, particularly those who have had long experience in the Ministry of Labour and, perhaps to an even greater extent, those whose whole background is connected with trade unions.

I would press for more labour attachés, but if we cannot have more do not let us lose those we have. We want someone on the spot who is trusted, and who can give the answers to some of the questions which are raised. I think of the United States of America in this connection, where there are a lot of people who still think in terms of Communist-Party-dominated trade unions over here. If people know the state of affairs from the inside they can answer that sort of question in the sort of language which is understood. But we also want people who can give information about the working of our democracy, and here these people can be front-rank leaders in the struggle to present the British way of life to people overseas.

When I talk about the British way of life I am not thinking, as do some people abroad, in terms of a bunch of Colonel Blimp imperialists, or a tired, effete people—a people on the way out, whose time is spent at Ascot and in the rest of the social round. So much of that is represented to people overseas by the photographs and news paragraphs in the newspapers. I want someone who can speak of those working in the mines of Derbyshire or of South Wales, people who can talk in the right terms about the work which is being done in our workshops and factories.

Those are the people we want represented to people abroad so that they will understand that we are not merely a top-hatted bunch lounging about at Ascot—because the pictures that go out are usually of that type of people. The story we want to get over is that of the common people, and in this struggle do not let us look round for a miserable £30,000 a year to save, for it is false economy. Let us see how we can spend money with greater advantage to countries overseas and here. Let us have a service which is expanding instead of contracting. It is the right hon. and learned Gentleman's job to provide us with a service of an expanding and not a contracting nature.

4.55 p.m.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, South)

I welcome the more moderate and, at the same time, robust speech of the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion). I agree that these labour attachés should concern themselves with what I might call social democratic developments at home—certain aspects of social engineering—and should impart that news to foreign countries, at the same time receiving the same sort of intelligence from foreign countries and advising their ambassadors accordingly, so that the Foreign Office are fully aware of kindred movements in countries overseas.

It is where the political and ideological aspect of this matter enters into the question that the danger occurs. I welcome this opportunity of saying that I thought the speeches of the right hon. Member of Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) and the hon. Member for Coventry, North (Mr. Edelman) were politically tendentious, reactionary and in danger of falling behind the level of world events. The right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale did not stage a very large-scale attack upon my right hon. and learned Friend. He could not do so; the figures are not sufficiently with him. He gave them to us himself.

In 1947, after two years of Labour Administration, there were 19 of these labour attachés and there are now 17; a difference of two. One would have thought that after two years in office the Labour Government, if they had been so zealous about this matter, would have produced a situation where the greatest possible range of countries was covered by labour attachés. Then they might have had some real charge to make, that my right hon. and learned Friend, after 18 months of Conservative Government, had reduced the number to its present level of 17. The fall from 22 in 1950 to 17 in 1953—the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale did not say what the figures were in 1951 and 1952——

Mr. Bevan

I did mention them. I have not got the figures before me, but I can remember them. In 1952 there was a reduction, caused by the withdrawal or suspension of the labour attachés at Peking and in Peru.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

The comparison between 1952 and 1953 is difficult to make, because specific figures were not given, but if there was a fall of five between 1950 and 1953, I do not regard that as being so very appalling, considering the economic crisis which this Government inherited from right hon. Members opposite and the large-scale reduction in costs which had to be made. Thirty thousand pounds is a significant sum in this particular field, but by no means too large. I do not see why labour attachés should be excluded from the general economies which the Government are making, to the great delight of hon. Members on this side of the Committee.

The right hon. Member went on to quote from certain documents, and told us what were the duties of these labour attachés. They had to inform the heads of their Missions of all important developments within their sphere of interest. What is their sphere of interest? That is what we have to turn our attention to this afternoon. If the sphere of interest is in the realm of the organisation of workers—to use a phrase which occurs in current Socialist legislation; in the Acts of nationalisation—that is to say the status and development of trade unions in a social democracy, to which the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East referred, there is no objection, but if the sphere of interest includes political and ideological fields, and the labour attaché is to interpret to the ambassador on the spot what is the next political development in the country concerned, there is some doubt about the matter.

I thought the British Foreign Office was sufficiently skilled, and that it had had sufficient experience over several hundred years, for an ambassador and his immediate staff to be able to interpret the political scene to the Government of the day, and that the trend in recent years had been to appoint labour attachés to study and report on trade union activities and the growth of labour institutions.

The right hon. Gentleman, of course, let the cat out of the bag when he spoke of the failure before the war to interpret at home what was happening in Italian and Spanish relations. Obviously, he had a case, to some extent, for we did experience a deficiency. He suggested that we should have had these labour attachés, skilled in Left-Wing politics and the doctrine of collectivism, who ought to have talked to the ambassadors and warned them of the insipient Fascist dangers. That is the case the right hon. Gentleman made.

Mr. S. Silverman

They were not there.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

The right hon. Gentleman said they should have done so. That was the case he made. They were not there to do it, but they ought to have been there to do it he said, and his plea is that they should be there now doing the same sort of thing. This is where I think the right hon. Gentleman's speech is in danger of falling behind the level of events, because so far from political developments all over the world being towards collectivism and the organisation of Socialism, which it would have been the job to warn ambassadors about formerly, the situation is utterly different. We are now getting in countries in Western Europe, and beginning to get in countries behind the Iron Curtain, certain aspects of liberal developments and the release of those collectivist forces which have been operating there so long.

Therefore, it seems to me that those persons the right hon. Gentleman for political reasons now wants there are the very opposite of the class of persons who ought to be there. The ambassadors ought not to have labour attachés skilled in Left-Wing politics, skilled in interpreting these collectivist policies. They ought to have Right-Wing publicists, newspaper men, people of that kind. Of course they should, on the supposition only that the right hon. Gentleman himself makes, that these ideological and political activities are warranted and justifiable.

I make no such assumption myself. I do not claim that these labour attachés ought to operate in this field at all.

Mr. Edelman

Is the noble Lord aware that the end of his logic is that he who drives fat oxen must himself be fat?

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

I have never known such complete logicians as there are on the other side of the Committee. We seek on this side of the Committee to be pragmatic, cautious; and we endeavour never to exceed the limits of politics. That is why I maintain the view, as I am sure that my hon. and right hon. Friends on this side of the Committee do, that we must not enter into these wide realms of ideologies the right hon. Gentleman was so madly keen to see, hoping to score a party point in saying that the ambassadors were living in golden drawingrooms and needed these officials to keep them on the strait and narrow path of democratic, socialist activities.

I believe, as I am sure my hon. and right hon. Friends believe, that these labour attachés are a useful and essential part of the modern diplomatic mechanism, but do let us attempt to keep their activities within bounds, and not accede to these wild political suggestions that emanate from the other side of the Committee, because if we do, according to the general development of world events as I see them happening at the present time, they will produce exactly the wrong ideological answers for the time.

I have had a certain amount of experience of these labour attachés abroad. It has been my good fortune, when visiting embassies and legations, to meet them and discuss with them, and I have found from personal experience that ambassadors and ministers are glad to have them there; and they fulfil a useful purpose. One finds curious juxtapositions from time to time. In one embassy, which shall be nameless, for I do not want to identify the persons——

Dr. H. Morgan (Warrington)

Why not, if it is a good story?

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

—I found the blackcoated gentlemen straight from, I suppose, violent ideological intercourse in cafes and factories and places, sitting in the most lavish 18th Century drawing-room, at their golden plated desks, and——

Dr. Morgan


Viscount Hinchingbrooke

—it was a little curious, for the ambassador had drawn them so closely to him that he could not have placed them other than in those very elaborate and very golden surroundings. To cap it all, one of them produced from his pocket, as if the old-style life had entered into his very soul, the most beautiful golden cigarette case I have ever seen, with deeply engraved on it the words, Labor omnia vincit.

5.6 p.m.

Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)

The noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) promised us more than he gave us. He said he was going to expose to the Committee, as the great authority he no doubt is, the reactionary nature of the speech that my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) made. He has not done that. He has not even begun to do it. He did not even equip himself to do it, because he does not yet understand what a labour attaché is for, why we need labour attachés at all.

My right hon. Friend did not make a party point from the beginning to the end of his speech, unless one may say it is a party point to complain of unnecessary and unwise economies saving a paltry £30,000 a year in order to go back from the very narrow point of advance which we had reached. To complain of that may well be a party point, but my right hon. Friend was not making any party point about labour attachés as such.

The party aspect of the matter was most unwisely introduced by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Somerset, North (Mr. Leather), and he said that criticism that the number was so few and that it was being reduced was a piece of self-criticism because the Labour Party did not do more, and had suspended one of the attachés, I think, before we left office. Is that mistaken?

Mr. Leather

With great respect to the hon. Gentleman, that is a complete distortion of what I said. The self-criticism to which I referred was that made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Coventry, North (Mr. Edelman), when they used their hard adjectives to describe the position in the Middle East and South-East Asia, which has not been altered in any way.

Mr. Silverman

I am sure I am not mistaken in thinking, for we all heard him, that the hon. Gentleman said it was self-criticism when we complained that there were not any now. The hon. Gentleman does not agree? I think he ought to read his speech tomorrow morning, and then, perhaps, he will know exactly what he was talking about, because it is quite clear he does not know now.

What I want to point out to the hon. Gentleman is that before 1942 there were no labour attachés at all. The hon. Gentleman, who agrees with me so enthusiastically about it, ought not to have made the point he made about self-criticism, because a little self-criticism would have been very much in order on his side of the Committee, as, perhaps, he will agree when he remembers that we had to come to 1942, three years after the outbreak of the last world war, before anybody in authority in this country cottoned, as it were, to the notion that there was a function to be performed in foreign embassies by labour attachés.

What we are complaining of today is that, having begun so late and having gone on so slowly, this is the wrong moment at which to go back. It is really nonsense for the noble Lord to say, "Ah, but we are not going back very much." It used to be 22 and we have succeeded in going back rather more than 20 per cent. in the last three years. If we go back at that rate, we shall soon be back where we started, and that is without any labour attachés at all.

What is the case for labour attachés? An embassy is a complex piece of machinery. It has many aspects, and it never was doubted in any quarter that it was useful to have a naval attaché at an embassy, or a military attaché at an embassy. We know all about that. (An HON. MEMBER: "Even with our allies.") Yes, in order to know all about the armed forces of our allies; to know what could be relied on and what progress was being made. It was so much an accepted part, and still is, of the diplomatic machine that all countries did it. Every country has naval attachés and military attachés.

Then there is the Press attaché. There have been for many years Press attachés for reasons quite obvious, and I do not need to expatiate upon them. What the noble Lord and his hon. Friends do not see is what a defect it was in our whole attitude to international relations not to see the importance of having the same kind of search for knowledge, the same kind of relationship, the same kind of study of what is, after all, the basis of all national life, as we had with its fripperies and extravagances.

Mr. Gower

Would the hon. Gentleman agree that the value of such a labour attaché would differ considerably according to the stage of development of the country to which he was accredited?

Mr. Silverman

I think we can all agree about that. It may very well be that the need is greater in one place than in another. It may very well be that the need is greater at one time than at another. The point that I am making is that we had to wait for a Labour Minister who was a member of the Labour Party before we ever saw the need to have a Labour attaché at all.

Mr. Osborne

A Conservative Prime Minister and a Conservative Foreign Secretary. The point which the hon. Gentleman is making is that we had to wait until we had a great Labour Minister before we saw the need to do that. That is perfectly true, but to put the matter in its proper setting I would point out that we also had at that time a Conservative Foreign Secretary and a Conservative Prime Minister.

Mr. Silverman

I wonder where the hon. Member got that idea. In 1942 we had the Prime Minister we have now, but he was not yet a member of the Conservative Party. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] He was the right hon. Gentleman whom the Conservative Party had kept in the wilderness for 10 years because he would not back them up in these very things. If it had not been for the Labour Party in those days, the right hon. Gentleman would not have been Prime Minister at that time. The point that I am making is that if it is true—and it is true in a sense that there was a Conservative Prime Minister at the time—nevertheless, nobody denies that the initiative for all this came only when we had a Minister of Labour who understood the importance of the Labour movement in the countries with which we had relations, and the Conservative Prime Minister who took his advice, because there is no Labour Minister now, is cutting it down—and that is exactly what we are complaining about.

Concerning the other question of what is the job of labour attaché today, in the autumn of 1944 I went to the United States of America and remained there until February, 1945. I found that although then we were, happily, nearing the end of the war in which we and America had been the closest allies for a number of years, the actual state of knowledge of the American people of the affairs in our country was lamentable. We had had for many years an organisation called British Information Services. I am sure that they did their best, but that is the most I can say for them. They had an office in New York. It was difficult to get into it, and, having got into it, one had to search for the man one wanted. One had to say exactly what one wanted to find out, and they found somebody to talk to one about it. There were a number of old newspapers and magazines lying about, and the job was done without imagination, without understanding and without sympathy.

Mr. Champion

I found, in 1949, that the conditions which my hon. Friend is talking about had altered considerably for the better.

Mr. Silverman

I am very glad to know that that is so. Of course, that was four years after the end of the war. I am sure that my hon. Friend is right, and it may be that my own criticism of what I found in 1944 is severer than it ought to be. It may be that there is an element of exaggeration in it. I am prepared to concede that. I do not say that there is, but I am prepared to concede that there may be.

But the over all effect was absolutely lamentable and one had the feeling that many Americans knew nothing about the service or that they could go there for knowledge or the means of realising the kind of thing that was going on in our own country. There was suspicion, ignorance, misunderstanding that did not accord well, at least so I thought, for the future. I went to Washington and met our first labour attaché. I do not think that there would be any harm in my mentioning his name and I do so with enthusiasm.

He was Mr. Archibald Gordon who, for many years, did the best type of mutual interpretation of our country and America that, I think, has ever been done in that Embassy. I might have been to America again quite recently but Senator McCarthy thought differently. He sees the information service from a different point of view. Mr. Gordon succeeded then so well, and I am glad that he is succeeding now so well, because he understood so very well the British labour movement and because he maintained such close friendly contacts with the American labour movement, in both its divided forms.

It is a job which could not have been done by anyone else. It could not have been done by professional journalists; British Information Services could not have done it. The ordinary old-fashioned type of professional diplomat could not have done it because his contacts would have been different, his background would have been different and he would not have had the same capacity for interpreting the man in the street in one country to the man in the street in the other country. Only people charged with a job of that kind could have done the work. It is nonsense to say that this is something which we can perhaps tolerate but which we must not let go too far—that we must restrain its functions. Still more is it nonsense to say that it is not vastly important in the modern world to increase this kind of service and not to diminish it.

The noble Lord said that collectivist notions or theories or practices were on the way out. He said my right hon. Friend was reactionary in thinking that the volcano was still erupting in South-East Asia. I do not know. My view is that my right hon. Friend is quite right. But supposing the noble Lord were right. That is not a reason for not having labour attachés. It is all the more reason for having them there. Let us have somebody who can judge the situation and bring us back a fair report. He might delight the heart of the noble Lord with news of the successful advance backwards of reaction all over the world. On the other hand, it might turn out that it was not so at all.

I would rejoice to see a labour attaché appointed to the Embassy in Moscow. I think it would be an extremely useful addition to our diplomatic services there—and they need it.

Mr. Gower

He would not do much.

Mr. Silverman

The hon. Member may be right, but he may be wrong. If the hon. Member means that he deduces that the attaché would not do much because others who have been there so long have been doing very little for all that time, I do not know. He could say, with some justification, that restrictions on his liberty would prevent him from doing it. If that is his argument, then he should argue that we should close the Embassy and bring them all home, but he would not be in favour of that.

Mr. Bevan

He has all the other attachés there.

Mr. Silverman

I cannot imagine what the military attaché does, nor can I imagine that the naval attaché will find his time over-occupied in Moscow, and what the Press attaché finds to do in a country where newspapers are limited in number and circumscribed in scope, I do not know; but nobody thinks they ought to be brought home. I should have thought that a labour attaché in Moscow could give us a great deal of information about conditions of life, about the organisation of trade unions, about the relations of trade unions with the Government and the relation of the workers with their trade union officials—just the very kind of thing about which we are woefully ignorant and the very kind of thing about which information would be extremely useful.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman said we could disregard the fact that we had not reappointed a labour attaché in China, and I have some sympathy with him in that connection because there are no formal or complete diplomatic exchanges between this country and the Chinese. They have no ambassador here, and we have no full Minister or ambassador there, and I can see some difficulty about having an attaché when we have nothing to which to attach him, or not enough to which he can be attached. But assuming there were established full diplomatic relations between this country and China—as one hopes there may be—I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman would insist with the Foreign Secretary that among the first of the diplomats we sent out to Peking would be a labour attaché.

It is most important, and from this point of view it does not matter what view we take about the value or the merit of what has been going on in China for three years, because whether it is good, bad or indifferent, whether it is something to be aided or to be stopped, it is certainly something to be studied, for they are doing enormous things. We might want to know how they are doing and by what methods, and we might want to know whether there is anything we could do to assist and whether it would be of any advantage to us if there were any way in which we could assist.

I should have thought it was in the highest degree wrong to say that these countries where the social ferment is most active are the countries where we must not send our labour attachés. These are the very countries where the movements of the human mind are going quickest and deepest. I say nothing about in what direction. These are the places where changes in the structure of human society are taking place most deeply and most rapidly, and it is vital to us, if we want to take an active and leading part in the affairs of the world, that we should equip ourselves to know what they are; and I should have thought it was lamentable to save a paltry £30,000 by moving backwards from a line along which we have never gone far enough.

I remember many years ago hearing Mr. Gustav Holst lecture about music. In the course of it he described what he considered to be the leading characteristic of the British character. He thought it was that the British character was most restless and uneasy unless it could be satisfied that it was moving only one step at a time. So keen were the British, in his opinion, to be satisfied that they were moving only one step at a time that, so long as they could be satisfied that they were moving no more than one step, they ceased to care whether it was backwards or forwards—and that was the noble Lord's speech.

5.29 p.m.

Mr. Cyril Osborne (Louth)

If the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) will allow me to say so, having suffered him for 24 minutes I can say that he is a very poor exponent of his party's policy of fair shares. There are many hon. Members both on this side of the House and behind him who have been waiting for a long time to speak, and he has taken nearly as much time as the three previous speakers. I consider that he was very unfair to his hon. Friends.

The hon. Member referred to his visit to the United States in 1944 and 1945 and said that knowledge there of the United Kingdom by people of the United States was very small. He said there was great suspicion, ignorance and enmity. We have exactly the same thing in this country of the American position today. Despite the magnificent work he has done in Washington with his half-dozen assistants, one labour attaché could not have dispelled that ignorance in a country which covers 3,000 one way and 2,500 miles the other way, for we in this country have not been able to dispel the ignorance here of the position in the United States.

I agreed with the hon. Member—it is not often that I do—when he paid tribute to Sir Archie Gordon. Since the war I have been to Washington three times—each time I have spent a considerable time with Sir Archie Gordon—and I hope to go there again in September. It is extraordinary how he can take one into the trade union offices there and how the doors of those in the highest executive positions in the United States are open to him. We can only deal with these matters on the basis of what we ourselves have seen.

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), who has now gone out—he has run away——

Dr. Morgan

Run away from the hon. Member?

Mr. Osborne

—spoilt an excellent case by bringing in party politics. We all agree that labour attachés are important and necessary. The right hon. Gentleman said that the pukka Foreign Office recruits undermined the position of labour attachés. My experience is that that is not true. I saw Mr. Braine in Rome in 1946 when there were great industrial troubles in Italy, and yet he was doing a first-class job there. I spent many days with him seeing industrialists and trade union leaders in Milan and Turin. There was not the slightest indication that as the right hon. Gentleman said, pukka Foreign Office officials were undermining his position. That was a complete lie. From my experience, that was a completely false statement.

Dr. Morgan

On a point of order, Mr. Hopkin Morris. Ought not the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the word "lie"?

The Deputy-Chairman

The word "lie" is not allowed.

Mr. Osborne

I withdraw the word, Mr. Hopkin Morris. I am sorry that I used it. What the right hon. Gentleman said was a complete mis-statement of fact according to my experience of the two best labour attachés that we have. I discussed the matter with them, and both said how well they had been received by the regular teams and how happily they had worked. The right hon. Gentleman did an ill-service to a fine part of our public service by bringing in the petty party spite which is typical of him. We all agree that this is an important Service, and the men in it are performing a fine service for our country and, incidentally, to the countries to which they are accredited.

We do not want the number reduced, but we have to face the fact that this is an economy. One hon. Member said that a saving of £30,000 was trifling, and in face of a Budget of £4,500 million, that seems to be a gross under-statement of fact; but any economy which is suggested by any Government will be bitterly attacked by the people having a special interest in the service concerned. If an economy comparable to this in, say, education were suggested, the school teaching profession would rise up in arms and create a row. If any economy were suggested in food or in any social service, there would be great protests.

Hon. Gentlemen opposite must face the fact that when they went out of power—I do not altogether blame them as a party for it—our country was living far beyond its means and we have now had to find methods by which to economise. Just before the General Election, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer said that there would have to be very serious and drastic economies in public expenditure. The leaders of hon. Gentlemen opposite agreed that some form of economy in public expenditure was necessary if inflation was not to run rampant.

Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)

Is there not greater scope for economy in the case of the Secret Service, the expenditure upon which has risen from £3 million to £4 million, than in this paltry sum?

Mr. Osborne

I should not be in order if I discussed that matter. What we have to face is that this is an economy measure.

Mr. Joseph T. Price (Westhoughton)

I am sure the hon. Member will agree that, as long as we are, unhappily, involved in the cold war, which we all want to see ended, we have to provide the physical munitions to defend our country. As to the diplomatic side of it, if we are in an ideological war, might it not be even more important to be correctly informed about these matters and to have our relationships right than to have the physical munitions?

Mr. Osborne

Of course I agree, but what I am putting to hon. Members opposite is that they are objecting to an economy. While they were in power we were so over-spending our national income that many economies have had to be effected and this is one of them. [HON. MEMBERS: "That is election stuff."] It is not election stuff, but even if it is, it was very effective at Sunderland, and it would be equally effective next year. Hon. Members opposite must face that this is an economy. They do not like it, and I am not very fond of it either. I would have agreed with a certain amount of what the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale said if he could only have kept his party spite out of it.

Will my hon. Friend assure me that if our financial position improves as a result of the Chancellor's budgetary policy there will be no further economies of this nature and that if there should be extra money to spend these services will then be restored? My hon. Friend was asked by an hon. Member opposite to give an undertaking that there would be no further cuts in the number of labour attachés, and I hope he will be able to give an affirmative answer. I hope he will also be able to say that when we can afford to spend more money as our position improves—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] It is no good hon. Members opposite saying that. We are still in a very tight economic position and before long our problem may be whether we can feed our people. Hon. Members opposite are living in a fools' paradise. I hope my hon. Friend will be able to tell us that, if our financial position improves, this particular economy will be brought to an end so that the excellent work done by our labour attachés will not be impaired.

5.39 p.m.

Mr. Frank Tomney (Hammersmith, North)

The hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne) has given us his usual theory on economies. He does not appear to have got his priorities into their correct perspective. In any country in the world, in the changing circumstances as we are now experiencing, the establishment of labour attachés is of first-class and foremost importance. What alarms me is that there are only 17 labour attachés to cater for 46 countries. I have no quarrel with those who wish to make economies at home and abroad, provided that they are based on priorities and a proper realisation of the issues involved.

Some 12 months ago Sir Ralph Glyn, who has now unfortunately left this House, presided over a Committee investigating certain aspects of the embassies in foreign countries. The results of that investigation were rather alarming. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) has advanced the opinion this afternoon that it is hard to determine where to place priorities in this situation, whether in the technical and industrial countries or whether in those countries where labour relations are just forming and where there is political awakening with prospects of development. It is a hard decision to take.

In all these things we have got to take a proper perspective. I am second to none in my admiration of the United States in certain aspects, and I agree we ought to have close associations politically, diplomatically, industrially, and so on. Let us have a look at what has happened in Embassy expenditure in the United States over a period of 10 years. I am glad that the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs is here be-because the figures I am going to quote may be a little on the low side and he can correct me. I have deliberately allowed for that. My figure will probably be £100,000 less than the actual figure. I should add that I have no actual knowledge of any economy effected since this Government took office.

The British Embassy in Washington pre-war had a staff of 23 and the total working expenses were £35,000 per annum. Today the ambassador's salary alone exceeds £4,500 and he has an allowance of some £31,000, the emoluments for this particular position being higher than in any other branch of the Civil Service. In addition to that he is provided with a residence out of public money. Before the war he had one counsellor; now he has five ministers. He has an adviser on German affairs with five counsellors. Pre-war he had one secretary; now he has 10. Other jobs have been increased correspondingly. We can see how the tremendous build-up has grown. Once a man gathers a staff round him and gets a salary, he tends to make himself more important by getting a larger staff. It happens in all our public services, including local government, it is a dangerous plan and something we should watch.

The local employees in the United States Embassy number 200, while there are 87 home-based staff. All these people like to ride in first-class cars. There are 27 cars at the Embassy all big powerful American vehicles, and there are chauffeurs to maintain them all. All these are run at heavy expense. Whether this is happening in all other countries in which we have representatives I do not know, but when we talk about reducing costs let us consider the thing in its proper perspective, because labour attachés are becoming more and more important.

It has been said that labour attachés represent the ordinary man in the street here to the ordinary man in the street in foreign countries. That is true. It is through these attachés that the ordinary people get to know about the ordinary people elsewhere in the world. The people in Asia and Africa, in Mexico, in Venezuela and in other parts of the world are anxious to know about working-class conditions here. Our standards are something which they desire to emulate, and among some Governments they are a matter of jealousy. Look at Egypt, and all the troubles that have arisen there because of low standards of living. All the working people everywhere want the standards which we have attained to here in industry and commerce. It is the labour attachés who are the people who can represent our standards of living to the people overseas and great good can come of such work. International feeling can be improved.

Let us go back to the United States for a moment. In the Embassy there other Ministries are well represented. Apart from the Service attachés there are 14 others, a labour attaché and two assistants, a petroleum attaché, a scientific attaché, a food attaché, an agricultural attaché, an air attaché, a civil attaché, a shipping attaché, and a colonial attaché. In some of these things we have commerce and trade well represented, but they cannot get conditions across to the ordinary people in the way that labour attachés with their trade union background can do by attending the conventions of ordinary people and so meeting those ordinary people.

The total sum spent on the Washington Embassy before the war was £35,000. I believe that the total sum today on the Foreign Office staff in U.S.A. is about £1,200,000. Of this £438,000 is diplomatic and £131,000 commercial. That is a mighty leap from £35,000, and we have also got to remember that all this money has to be paid in dollars. In view of the fact that the reduction in the number of labour attachés all over the world represents only some £35,000, a miserable sum, I think we should be prepared to look seriously at the whole question again.

In this short speech I want to appeal to the Government to take the example of the United States which is a vast country with a large number of Provinces. It is an example of the kind of thing that we have got to do. If we take that example we will see the necessity for strengthening our labour attachés in every country throughout the world, and if we made economies in other directions in other embassies we could get the thing on to a reasonable basis so that we would be well covered in all branches of commerce, finance, banking and trade unionism.

5.48 p.m.

Mr. Peter Smithers (Winchester)

I listened with interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Tomney). He suggested that in the Washington Embassy we could make a substantial improvement in the service of labour attachés by cutting down other expenses there. No one would be more willing than I to reduce diplomatic expenditure if it were shown that it was wasteful, but I do not think it is.

We all admire the sincerity of the hon. Member and his knowledge of trade union matters, but it is rather unrealistic for him to make a comparison between pre-war and post-war expenditures in the United States. Anybody acquainted with the problem there would know that they have practically no bearing one on the other. Not only has the expense of running the Embassy increased out of all measure, but so also have our needs there.

If the hon. Member is suggesting that it would be a good idea to sacrifice our commercial representation in the form of commercial attachés, that is a dangerous suggestion, because these attachés are performing an invaluable service to our exports. Anybody who has had contact with their work will know how much help they can give the British exporter. I agree that if there is any waste there it ought to be cut out; but I believe that it has already been done in that Department.

I did not intend to speak in this debate, but I happened to be in the Chamber when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) began his speech, and as he went on I thought that I must make a few remarks. I endorse the phrase of my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister, who said that labour attachés cement friendship at a new level. That expresses precisely their function. I have dealt with numerous labour attachés and have always found them exceptionally well informed. Furthermore, I have always found them to be respected by their colleagues. Yet some of the things said by the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale—I am sorry he is not in his place—led me to wonder whether he really understands the functions of labour attachés and whether, during his time at the Ministry of Labour, he was able to give the attention to their services which doubtless he would desire.

For example, he spoke of the impossibility of their covering large areas, such as groups of countries. The idea that a labour attaché is required for every State is illusory, and in many cases they would be unemployed or badly employed if so appointed. The utility of the labour attaché depends largely on the character of the labour with which he has to deal. If it is highly organised, there is much that he can do. If it is largely a wage-earning proletariat in that country, there is much on which he can advise his Government. If, however, it is a country where the majority of the proletariat are not wage earners but peasant cultivators—and there are many such still in existence—it is idle to have a full-time labour attaché or anything like that. What is wanted is an agricultural attaché. So it is no good pointing to the Middle East and saying, "Look, there is only one labour attaché dealing with all this," and then supposing that one has scored a heavy criticism of policy, since all one is doing is revealing one's own lack of comprehension.

The right hon. Gentleman said that labour attachés were a useful means of sounding opinion. I have always found that where a labour attaché is able to maintain close contact with local trade union organisations, he is probably one of the best informed men in the embassy. That alone is ample justification of the policy of maintaining labour attachés in appropriate places. But again, if there are no means through which he can maintain those contacts, as in backward countries, there is no means by which he can be any better informed than any other member of the embassy staff, because one man cannot, by his own researches and contacts, maintain touch with vast bodies of people.

In introducing this debate the right hon. Gentleman contrasted the position of the labour attachés with what he envisaged as the old diplomatic service. I do not believe that his speech did any good either to the cause he has at heart or to our diplomatic service by making those contrasts. The functions of a labour attaché, like those of any other diplomat, are precise and clear and everybody knows what they are. Our anxiety is that they should be in the right places and should perform their functions well. On that I think all of us who think about this problem could be agreed. In drawing the contrast which the right hon. Gentleman did, he gave a quotation which referred to the regular diplomatic service in time gone by as being "scholarly gentlemen isolated in several languages." I am sure there is no foundation for that either today or in any reasonably recent past.

It is often the case that a casual visitor to some foreign country who is not immediately invited to dinner, comes back with the story that diplomats move in small circles, because he has not himself had the privilege of moving in them. Yet if one takes the opinion of other diplomats, who are the best judges of diplomacy, I have always found that our own diplomatic service occupies a uniquely high place in their estimation. The right hon. Gentleman criticised the service because, he said, they were ill-informed about, for instance, the Italian intervention in Spain. I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that it is no part of the job of a diplomatic servant to make secret investigations or to carry on espionage work. It is not his business to be informed of what is going on in secret, but of the policies and actions of the Government. There are quite other organisations for dealing with secret matters.

Then the right hon. Gentleman went on to draw the distinction between labour attachés and regular diplomats who, he said, "moved in social circles at the top." "Social" circles at the top are not what diplomats ought to move in, but circles at the top are just where diplomats do have to move. The important thing is that our diplomats should be acceptable in circles at the top, whether it be top Government circles or top trade union circles. Therefore, I do not think that this criticism has any validity.

The right hon. Gentleman made three other allegations of which I want to remind the House. One was that the service was sensitive only to "dying events." Another was that it had betrayed ignorance of mundane matters, and the third was that it contained "useless ornaments," easily identified, who could be replaced by labour attachés. I am sure that if there are any unnecessary ornaments in the diplomatic service my hon. and right hon. Friends at the Foreign Office would like to know of them immediately. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will communicate with the Foreign Office about that matter, because they have been busily engaged in effecting most painful economies in reducing diplomatic staffs and in cutting down expenses everywhere. I can think of a number of cases where such reductions have been made. But for the right hon. Gentleman to get up in this House and talk about useless ornaments in the diplomatic service, and then not to give any particulars to justify the allegation, is doing nothing to enhance the prestige of the service abroad or to help the interests of his country.

The right hon. Gentleman went on to say that the labour attachés are never popular with diplomatic staffs. Again in my experience that is not true. Some of the labour attachés I know are the most esteemed and personally liked and socially acceptable members of their diplomatic staffs. It is quite untrue to say these things. The right hon. Gentleman went on to say that they were not regarded as normal diplomats; but those who know their work and their capacities regard them as exceptionally good diplomats. To suppose that dealing with trade unionists is not a high form of diplomacy is quite erroneous. It requires gifts of the highest order.

Mr. I. O. Thomas

Why cut them down?

Mr. Smithers

I am coming on to that question in a moment. Finally the right hon. Gentleman said that he thought the wives of members of the regular diplomatic staffs were engaged in undermining the social position of the labour attachés. The ludicrousness of that statement will be obvious to anyone who knows the facts about our embassies abroad. Our diplomatic staffs abroad have a hard job. Let not Members think it is an easy job. It is very hard work, it is often very boring work, they often do it on inadequate pay, and it is particularly hard on the women. Therefore, for the right hon. Gentleman from the Opposition Front Bench to proclaim that kind of thing is injurious to patriotic people who cannot here answer for themselves.

Now I come to the question of a reduction. The fact is that the number of these attachés was nine at the date quoted by the right hon. Gentleman at the end of the war, it rose to 22, and is now 17. An hon. Member opposite asked why there should be a reduction. I regret the reduction. Nevertheless, what we have to do is to plan the diplomatic service in order to get the greatest efficiency within a particular budget. It is quite valueless to point to the reduction in the number of labour attachés without also taking that reduction against the background of the general reduction in expenditure on other diplomatic services. I hope that if my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary intervenes in the debate, he will be able to put the thing in perspective and show that hard and painful economies have been made all through the administration.

I myself, as a representative to the Council of Europe at Strasbourg, have had to go without my taxi from the station to the embassy, for example, which used to be provided. I am glad that it is so, because I think it was a waste. I believe that innumberable great economies have been made, although I am aware that this is only one very small one.

It seems to me that the job of this part of the service is to advise and to represent. To represent one's country, one does not have necessarily to come from any one class or occupation. The purpose of an embassy staff is to represent their country as a whole. To introduce those social considerations into a debate upon the utility of the labour attachés is to muddy and confuse the issue. In fact, under modern conditions the members of the Foreign Service are chosen from a fairly wide basis and have wide qualifications. I believe that an able ambassador in his own person, if he knows his job, can represent the whole community in an admirable manner.

Therefore, while any reduction in the strength of the labour attachés is regrettable, I do not believe that real damage will be done by these reductions, nor do I think they are unreasonable when we bear in mind the sacrifices which have to be made in other parts of the Foreign Service. I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on his resolve to persevere with this portion of the service and to see that it is efficiently conducted.

6.2 p.m.

Mr. Frederick Lee (Newton)

I am distressed to know that our delegates at Strasbourg now have to walk between their hotel and the place of meeting.

Mr. Smithers

A jolly good thing.

Mr. Lee

It was not so in my day. We could fight for the worst type of car on the road, and we probably got one. I hardly think, however, that that would be advanced as anything comparable to certain labour attachés in important parts of the world.

The hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Smithers) seemed to have difficulty in finding what reason there could possibly be for having a labour attaché in a purely agricultural community. I understand the hon. Member's meaning; there is not the same type of organisation, nor are there the same opportunities to get down to things. I remind the hon. Member, however, that in many parts of the world countries which a few years ago were purely agricultural are now semi-manufacturing countries. The tendencies are all in the direction of producing more and more manufactured goods. The former peasant who is now being brought into industry is a far more difficult proposition than the person with an industrial background and the "know-how" from within. I should have thought that in that kind of country, in which there is this marked change-over from agriculture to a manufacturing economy, the labour attaché could do a tremendous job of work, especially in the early phases of that change-over.

It has been questioned whether the Foreign Office disagree with the Ministry of Labour on this issue. For my part, I have differed from the Chancellor of the Exchequer on many aspects of the economic policy which he has outlined in the past two years. I believe that he or the Treasury are entirely responsible for this tragic economy. A figure of £30,000 has been mentioned. I should have thought that at a time such as this it was a quite false economy to withdraw labour attachés or to refuse to appoint more in certain parts of the world. Let me give one or two reasons.

Stress has been laid on what we as a country derive from having labour attachés in certain parts of the world. It is quite right and proper that we shoud do that. Indeed, I have had the privilege of seeing very many of the reports that these gentlemen send from most parts of the world, and I pay my tribute to those documents as being the most realistic type of reports on the real things that matter inside a country. From reading the reports sent in by our labour attchés, one can almost visualise the changing conditions in many parts of the world. Indeed, on occasions when I was a little hazy as to what was happening in one country or another, I would ask whether we could get a special report on a specific issue, and the reports that we obtained were most enlightening. They illustrated the type of mind which was in contact, not only with workmen as such, but with the conditions governing industry throughout the country in question.

For my part, however, I do not believe that it is merely for what we can get out of it that we should retain and expand our service of labour attachés. At least as important, I should have thought, is to consider the effect on some of the countries to which they have been assigned. In 1946 I happened to be sent by the late Ernest Bevin with two colleagues from the House to Persia. At that time the difficulties in the oil industry were beginning to show themselves. One was under no illusions as to the breeze from the North, which perhaps fanned things up a bit. On the other hand, I am utterly convinced that had there then been a really advanced system of industrial relationships, had we been able to have somebody there, not merely at that point but for a number of years beforehand, who could have advised the management of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company on the methods of dealing with labour, the events which have since taken place in Persia would never have happened.

The hon. Member for Winchester reminded me of that when he spoke of the agricultural community. In Persia we already had the background. We had to enlarge the refinery at Abadan. Thousands of people were flocking in at the very moment when Anglo-Iranian could not build any more houses because the raw materials had to be used for enlarging the refinery. Resentment came to the top, and the flame was easily fanned. If at that time there had been somebody with the "know-how" as regards negotiating with their employees, I am certain that the history in that part of the world would have been very different.

It is more in that context that one feels that it is a very great tragedy indeed that we should be reducing the number of our labour attachés. Typical of the type of man who does this job was one I met in Persia. Before I entered the House of Commons, I looked after the labour side of things in one of the biggest factories in Britain. Among other things, I used to argue with the Ministry of Labour man who would come in during the war to ask whether we could spare, for instance, a dozen fitters. The next time that I saw that man—Mr. Audesley—was in Persia, and I felt that the same mentality and knowledge as he had shown in Manchester in the grim days of the war, in getting the best out of the distribution of our labour force, were being exercised in the Middle East. It is true that that man had a huge area to cover. He came up from Egypt to see our delegation in Persia.

It was, I know, our intention vastly to expand the service which was being given. Therefore to quote the figure of 22 attachés as the maximum, which was attained in 1951, is by no means the whole of the story. We cannot simply allocate these people or decide that we are to have another four or five labour attachés without making certain that we have the best men for the job and that the conditions are proper for them to operate. It is not just a matter of churning them out. One has to be careful to get the right man and the right background before a service of this kind can be got going.

It is against that background of a constantly expanding service that we now see this miserable business of reduction to 17. We are living in a most critical phase of world history. We are seeing very many so-called backward countries deciding that the time has arrived when they can expand and be masters of their own affairs. In this new period they cannot merely make a political decision as to how they are to expound and what type of democracy or what type of Government they are to have. In a very great degree the industrial capacity of the country—the knowledge of how to meet the economic problems of a new, rising industrial economy—will predetermine the type of political set-up they ultimately get.

Against that background this decision is indeed tragic just when we are trying—humbly, I hope, and without aggrandisement—to show what we have learned over more than 100 years of industrial relationships and when we have something to offer and when the world is changing and in flux in these things. Revolutions are taking place in these areas every day. Yet it is at that precise moment that the Chancellor decides that this service cannot be continued, or expanded, but must be reduced. One cannot argue that a certain percentage of damage will be done by the withdrawal of two or three of these men. I can only say, having had the experience of seeing them at work in most difficult conditions, that I believe they have done and can continue to do a job which no other type of ambassador can possibly do.

When the Government felt it necessary to withdraw labour attachés from China and Poland, do not think the Committee would be right to accept that that meant a diminution from 19 to 17. I know both men, especially Mr. Kirby, who was in Warsaw; I met him in Warsaw and admired the work he was doing. I believe they should be allocated to other areas. I do not think it was right to reduce the number, but that rather they should be sent to other parts of the world where they could do equally good work. I am a little dubious about the enthusiasm of certain hon. Members opposite about the retention of 17——

Mr. Osborne


Mr. Lee

The hon. Member may say, "Oh." I hope he is right and that I am wrong. If on any ground whatever it is considered necessary to withdraw any more labour attachés, I hope the Minister will demand that, instead of the service being reduced, they shall be allocated to other countries which badly need them.

Two or three years ago we had an attaché in Greece. That man did an enormous amount of work in keeping us informed in a most difficult situation. I do not need to recall the difficulties in Greece at that time. That man's work was of inestimable value. At that time there was estrangement between Greece and Yugoslavia. Happily, the position does not so exist today. May I ask whoever is to reply to the debate whether we are now considering enlarging the scope of the labour attaché in Athens in order at least to cover Yugoslavia? On the political side it may well be that he could do a first-class job, although it may be outside the usual bounds of a labour attaché's position. I believe it is necessary for us to continue that line of thought. Maybe Turkey could be brought in under the same attaché, but at least they should be covered in this way.

I hope the Minister will feel that this service is something almost unique. I do not want to say anything to upset people in other countries, but I am a little alarmed when I see the expansion of this type of work by certain countries whose mastery of diplomacy is perhaps not complete. I think that in some parts of the world positive harm is done by sending out inexperienced men to certain countries. I shall not pursue that matter further, except to say that against that background it is utterly vital that we should not only maintain what we have, but strive to find more of these first-class people and send them out. We appreciate their reports and benefit from them, but I believe that in the main the work they can do at a time when so much of the world is in flux—when the right word, the "know-how" and a little advice to show a young struggling Government how to consolidate its economic position—is something for which, in the fullness of time, this country will receive plaudits and gratitude.

I know that from a personal point of view the Minister admires the service. I hope that the Committee as a whole will not permit any silly, pettyfogging, restrictionist policy of the type we are discussing, but will insist that, if economies have to be made they will be balanced in a proper way. I hope that when we see a false economy of this kind taking place, both parties in this Committee will come down heavily on this the Chancellor, or any other Chancellor, and ensure that the policy of labour attachés shall be allowed to expand.

6.18 p.m.

Sir William Darling (Edinburgh, South)

That this is a most agreeable subject for the Opposition to have chosen for discussion this afternoon is doubtless understood, but it was not understood by me when first the debate began.

I have met two labour attachés, one in Holland and one in France, and I found they were useful, well-established members of the diplomatic body; but when I hear the presentation of their duties as outlined by the hon. Member for Newton (Mr. Lee) I am slightly shocked and alarmed. We have been informed that it is part of their duty to guide a young Government in the right way it is to go and that it is their duty, in the hon. Gentleman's opinion, in Persia to suggest certain kinds of organisation of labour in a sovereign country which is not our own. If the hon. Gentleman suggests that the things which have happened in Persia are the consequence of this, I am compelled to change my opinion of these gentlemen. I hope that what has been said is not true but is entirely inaccurate. Nothing could be more mischievous and foreign to the wishes of this country than that we should send people to tell other countries how they should conduct their affairs, and whether to promote a trade union movement or not.

Mr. Lee

Is not the hon. Member aware that many of the Governments concerned go well out of their way to ask the advice of people such as I have mentioned? In regard to Persia, I did not say there was a labour attaché there whose advice was disregarded; I said that if there had been a member of the service and an opportunity of taking the advice of an experienced person, such a thing would never have taken place.

Sir W. Darling

I am grateful for the assurance that labour attachés do not interfere and offer advice to young Governments. If the misapprehension existed at all, it was because the hon. Member said so. I was not aware of it, but he has reiterated that sometimes they proffer advice and sometimes it is sought from them.

I think there is a deep psychological background to this discussion. There is an endless confusion in the mind of the Opposition about the use of the word "labour." It cannot be applied to anything without being confused with the Labour Party. The labour attaché has nothing to do with the Labour Party. He may have been a member of the Labour Party and share the views of those who so describe themselves, but because the word "labour" is used it causes a great upsurge of protestation which is apparent to the Committee. That is the reason they are psychologically tender on this particular subject.

Mr. Bevan

The hon. Gentleman ought not, even inadvertently, to give a false impression. Labour attachés are almost invariably recruited from the permanent staff of the Ministry of Labour and are, therefore, not supposed to have, and do not express, any political opinions or affiliations whatever.

Sir W. Darling

I was well aware of that. The right hon. Gentleman is making my case for me. I was referring to the extreme sensitiveness of the friends of the right hon. Gentleman when they use the word "labour" at all. It is almost a sanctified word. It is somehow different from educational attachés or other attachés; it is somehow sacred.

Perhaps I may refer the right hon. Gentleman to his own words, delivered in his inimitable manner. Putting both elbows on the Box, and putting his spectacles in his pocket, he said, "This great service was set up"—I cannot provide the intonation of the right hon. Gentleman's attractive and winning voice—" by my right hon. Friend during the Coalition. He, with his Labour friends, was responsible. They gave a much-needed prodding to the Government of the day." So if these are not his children, if I am not right in saying that labour attachés have these peculiar qualities, it is because I have been misinformed by the right hon. Gentleman.

Do not let us be too tender about this matter. This is not a class matter; these are 17 important public officials who are the subject of debate. As my hon. Friend the Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne), who is never afraid to say unpopular things, has truthfully said, this country cannot afford large numbers of officials, and economies have been made in this Department, as in any other. They should be made more extensively. From what I have heard of labour attachés this afternoon, I am not inclined to believe that an extension of this system, as desired by various hon. Members opposite, is desirable.

Let us be careful that these members of the staff of the Ministry of Labour, whatever their earlier background—they did not begin in the Ministry of Labour; I know where they came from, I know their earlier origins—whom we send out to Persia and elsewhere do not foment difficulties and fail to further the best interests of this country. I am gravely suspicious, whatever their intentions, however good those intentions are—no doubt the Minister will see that their intentions are better than they were—I am a little afraid that in this difficult and dangerous world these interfering gentlemen, as they have been described, ought to be advised to mind their own business and, like Agag, tread delicately.

6.23 p.m.

Mr. James Hudson (Ealing, North)

The hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Sir W. Darling) has made clear that he has gathered very little from this debate except that labour attachés are something on which we can afford to make economies. In that he finds himself well led by the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne). In fact, wherever there is a question of economy hon. Members opposite generally are in full cry after it, irrespective of the claims for good work to be done and which ought to be done rather than that the economy proposed should be made.

I have gathered from this debate that there is a general suspicion on the other side of the Committee that economies have been made in other parts of the diplomatic service as well. I had hoped that some of them would detail the economies on a large scale which would enable us to encourage ourselves in the situation that now faces us about these labour attachés. The only economy mentioned has been that referred to by an hon. Member who, when he goes to Strasbourg, has to walk instead of getting into a cab.

Mr. Smithers

I was trying to point out that these economies have gone down even to the tiniest details. Very large economies have been made, I believe. I am looking forward to hearing of them from the Government Front Bench.

Mr. Hudson

The hon. Member gave only the tiniest detail he could think of tonight. I am saying that if there were some important matters about which we could be told, hon. Members opposite would have a better case.

Mr. Smithers

I am sure that the hon. Member would not wish to misrepresent me. It was not the only economy I could think of. I believe the post of financial adviser in Paris has been suppressed, and so on. I was quoting a small detail to show how thorough the economies have been. I could think of many other economies.

Mr. Hudson

The hon. Member makes the case over again but he could only think of a small detail, and I was not impressed by it.

I am impressed by the case which my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) made. Most hon. Members who have spoken have referred to the fact that this proposal to have labour attachés came forward during the period of office of Mr. Ernest Bevin. Actually it grew out of much earlier discussions in the House, which again, if I am to be accused of being party political in my approach to the problem, I say were very largely the result of agitation on this side of the House.

I remember Mr. E. D. Morel and his protests about the personnel in the Foreign Office and their inability to face the problems that were arising in the modern Europe before and immediately after the First World War. Very largely as a result of that sort of criticism, which he carried on both in the House and previously in the country, there was a feeling, certainly in Parliament, that men ought to be appointed to the Foreign Office who knew a great deal more about the social movements of this country and the social movements of the world in order that, through their knowledge of these matters, they might have a better chance of providing an increasing check against developments towards war.

It was because of that point of view that in 1925, just after the first Labour Government, when E. D. Morel used to talk about these things in the House, there was a proposal made that a new type of committee should be set up to examine the credentials of young men making application for service as diplomats in the Foreign Office. I had the good fortune as far back as that date—1925—to be selected, with Ronald McNeill, as he then was—Lord Cushenden, as he was afterwards—and a leading member of the Civil Service, to examine the claims of the young men who were applying for the higher positions in the Foreign Office.

I remember that I got the opportunity to ask my own questions of these young men who came forward. They were from the universities; they knew all about the classics, some were great mathematicians, many had read history. But when it came to the question of what they had read in economics, particularly that sort of economics that would give them a contact with the people whom they would meet in Europe, the great minds of Europe that had been trained not merely in what we in this country call capitalistic economics, but also Marxist economics, none of them had any acquaintance with it. I was looked upon as something of a crank at that time for asking such questions. Indeed, the hon. Gentleman who then represented the Tory Party, Ronald McNeill, thought that these questions were quite irrelevant, that these applicants did not need to know anything about the mentality of the people whom they would meet on the Continent in regard to the serious issues that arose.

It is from that kind of protest which was made about the ineffectiveness of many of the people in the diplomatic service to meet the new impulses in the world that Ernest Bevin very rightly made this proposal for the selection of the direct labour attaché.

I have one other word of criticism to offer about the discussion as it has run its course. Nearly everyone has talked about the labour attaché having a capacity to approach trade union problems abroad. If he is an effective labour attaché it should be not merely trade union problems, but the whole of the problems of humanity both as producers in the workshops and as consumers. The labour attaché who is well up to his job—and I believe that many who have been appointed are so—will know something of the Co-operative movement as well as the trade union movement.

Hon. Gentlemen begin to look down their noses when I mention the Cooperative movement; but here is a great movement with 11 million people in this country making tremendous efforts to solve economic problems, and to persuade people abroad to make similar efforts. The capacity to examine what co-operative efforts are taking place abroad, to talk to co-operators abroad and bring information to the attention of the Foreign Office and in Parliament, is an important part of the work of a labour attaché.

When I look at the proposals offered us, I deplore that not only Sweden and Denmark, for example, where both trade unionism and the co-operative movement are very strong, but Venezuela have been selected as places where we can afford to make economies. There, at the present moment, enormous American capitalist feelers are being put out. There are great developments in a new industry. I noticed the other day that one of those American newspapers which provide us with cheap reading each morning by sending us free copies of their publications had a special supplement on Venezuela. I read it with the greatest interest. I was amazed, although I had read something about Venezuela, at the enormous advance made in a new capitalist direction in the last few years. I should say that Venezuela cannot be run from Mexico. We shall know very little about Venezuela if that is the best the Government can think of. In that country there should be a special representative who will face the sort of problems of which I am speaking.

These proposals of my right hon. Friend are good and the Government should pay heed to them. I am willing to admit that the right hon. and learned Gentleman opposite dealt with the matter in a reasonable way—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear"]—yes, but I wish that he had set an example to his followers. The statements we have heard from the benches opposite reveal the depth of ignorance of the Tory mind. The right hon. and learned Gentleman was feeling his way to something better, against a Chancellor who has imposed on him, as on other Ministers, the sort of unjustifiable economy which constantly faces us today. I am glad this debate has taken place, and I say we should return to the appointment of new and more labour attachés.

6.34 p.m.

Mr. Raymond Gower (Barry)

I wish I could always feel, as surely does the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson), that my side are always right and my opponents always wrong. I disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne) in his summing-up of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan). I thought the right hon. Gentleman introduced this subject in a reasonably quiet way and was not unduly provocative. He slipped in one or two party points, but that was quite natural and to be anticipated.

I do not think this has been shown to be a political issue. As the Minister has said, all we have had is evidence of some slight reduction in the numbers of one kind of official in our diplomatic service. We have not had the advantage of a full survey of what has been done in every branch of the service or indeed in the Foreign Office as a whole.

The right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale expressed the Labour view that none of the attachés should have been removed, but rather that the numbers should have been increased. He went on to say that it was better to sacrifice other members of the embassy staff, and I could have wished he had made some concrete suggestions about what other members might have been sacrificed. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour will tell us what other economies have been made. My hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Mr. Smithers) gave us a few examples.

It is obvious that the main issue between hon. Members on each side of the Committee is that, rightly or wrongly, Ministers on this side of the Committee felt that the national economy demanded certain economies. That is possibly something about which hon. Members opposite may properly disagree. But the Government must carry out the overall policy which arises from their assessment of the national financial position, and this is one of the results of that general policy.

The most remarkable suggestions were made by the hon. Member for Coventry, North (Mr. Edelman). Apart from being a mere representative of his Government, the labour attaché, said the hon. Member for Coventry, North, was also a sort of person who might advise and encourage the nationals of the country to which he is accredited in the development of their trade unions and possibly in their political institutions. I should have thought that was a very dangerous case to make.

Labour attachés or any other diplomats who indulge in those practices on a very wide scale would deserve the strong criticism from the House. As my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester pointed out, those are not the duties of diplomatic representatives. I should imagine their duties include keeping out of the affairs and the life of the country to which they are accredited as much as possible. They might mix privately with the people and make contacts in commercial life, but surely they should not instruct in the development of either political or industrial institutions.

My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South (Sir W. Darling) probably put his finger on the real reason for the impassioned criticism of hon. Members opposite when he said that this is one of the things they regard as their own offspring. My right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Labour said that these labour attachés are designed to cement friendships on a new level. I think that is what the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale had in mind when he introduced this debate. They should not be regarded as of superior genius. They are human beings, like other members of the diplomatic service. They cannot accomplish miracles and if one of them is removed from any part of the world that is not a fatal blow to our diplomacy.

I suggest that a labour attaché must be most valuable in a country where industrial development is most advanced. I doubt if a labour attaché would have been of any value at the Court of Genghis Khan, for example, unless we take the view that a labour attaché is a man who is interested in other spheres of life beside his proper sphere of diplomatic representation. Some speakers have suggested that a labour attaché is a sort of additional member of the British espionage in other countries. That explains why there has been this divergence of view.

In short, the position is that in 1945 there were only nine attachés. In 1949 the number had increased to 21, and in 1950 it was 22. Of the five who have now disappeared, I think that my right hon. and learned Friend mentioned that one was in China and another in Poland. It is true that the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) suggested that a labour attaché might be of great value in China and in Poland. I am prepared to subscribe to the view that a labour attaché would have some value in any country. What the Minister had to decide was whether that value was commensurate with the expenditure in each country. There is a case for the Minister to say that in the conditions which prevailed in China and Poland when those officials were removed he properly adjudged that to put other labour attachés there then was not merited.

Mr. Bevan

Would the hon. Gentleman address himself to the point that perhaps the least effective of all attachés in these circumstances would be the military and naval attachés?

Mr. Gower

That point was also made by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne. It is one which the Minister might well consider. The Minister might consider whether the attaché in Mexico can effectively deal with so many Central American countries. At present he has to look over most of Central America and parts of South America and there might be a case for examining that position. It has been said that the economy is in the wrong places. I think that those very words were used by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale. Economy is always in the wrong places. It is extremely difficult for a Government to introduce economies anywhere.

There are one or two aspects of this problem which have more than merited this debate. I hope that the Opposition have been comforted and encouraged by what the Minister said. He made it clear that it is as much his desire as it is theirs to maintain an efficient system of labour attachés wherever essential. That should go a long way to encourage them and meet their fears.

6.43 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour (Mr. Harold Watkinson)

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) said that he hoped to have a further Government statement before the end of the debate. I am happy to oblige him. It gives me an opportunity to say a few words of genuine and sincere tribute to a very great service and a very great part of the Ministry of Labour.

I cannot understand the attitude of the hon. Member for Coventry, North (Mr. Edelman) who seems to think that our ambassadorial service and our embassies abroad are hotbeds of jealousy and envy. That has never been my experience, as a businessman who, when travelling abroad since the war, has always had the utmost co-operation from any member of the embassy staff; and it was always the member of the staff I wanted.

Mr. Edelman

The hon. Gentleman is exaggerating. I said nothing to suggest that the embassies were hotbeds of jealousy and envy. I said specifically that there was resentment in certain embassies about certain labour attachés.

Mr. Watkinson

I will contradict that statement, too. That statement gives an equally false picture of the kind of teamwork that goes on in every embassy abroad, especially where a labour attaché is accredited. I am supported in that by the practical experience of my hon. Friend the Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne) in Italy with Mr. Braine, who has done most notable and valuable work; and also by the expert knowledge of my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Mr. Smithers), who was an attaché during the war. He was entirely right in his view that the present relationship between labour attachés and the ambassadorial hierarchy is happy, satisfactory and efficient. I hope that these remarks have at least disposed of a slur on what is a very fine service.

My hon. Friend the Member for Somerset, North (Mr. Leather) and also the hon. Gentleman the Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Tomney) asked questions about the position in the United States. I should say first that although we have made some major cuts in the general Foreign Service in the United States, we have made none in the labour attachés or in the assistant labour attachés. The position in the United States is preserved exactly as it was in the time of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale. That is right and proper.

In addition, my hon. Friend the Member for Somerset, North asked if we proposed to make any cuts in the staff there. We do not propose to alter the present situation, which is that we have a very efficient labour attaché, Sir Archibald Gordon—I associate myself and my right hon. and learned Friend with the tributes paid to him from both sides of the Committee—and three assistants in Washington, Chicago and San Francisco. That is fair and adequate coverage. That is how the position stands and I hope that that is how it will remain. I hope that I have answered the problem of the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North in assuring him that there have been no cuts in the labour attaché service in the United States.

I prefer the approach of the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion), who I thought took a balanced view and paid a most generous tribute to the work of the service. The fact is that we must look at the matter from a general point of view. We cannot regard even a most valuable service such as this in isolation. It is fair in this context, as a great many hon. Members have dealt with the Foreign Service in general, to put things into proportion by giving two figures. The saving in the cuts in the labour attaché service amounted to £30,000; but the Foreign Service as a whole has had to take a reduction of 275 in personnel and nearly £500,000 in total cost.

Mr. Bevan

Have any other attachés suffered a reduction?

Mr. Watkinson

I am merely giving the global total. I would tell the right hon. Gentleman that it is a net total. This is the Foreign Service——

Mr. Bevan

I understand that. We are not comparing the reduction of £30,000 on labour attachés with the general reduction in Foreign Office expenditure but with the reduction in other attaché services. Has there been any reduction at all in other attachés?

Mr. Watkinson

That is quite another question.

Mr. Bevan

It is the question.

Mr. Watkinson

Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to answer him. If we are to look at this problem at all we must look at it fairly in relation to the problem of the Foreign Service as a whole. It is most unfair to assume, as I think some hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the Committee assumed, that we have cut the labour attaché service in isolation. We have not. We have made reductions somewhat similar to those made in the Foreign Service as a whole. It is only fair to take account of that point of view.

Therefore, the first point to make plain in this short summing up is that the present Administration believe as sincerely and strongly as they can in this most valuable and vital service provided by the labour attachés. There is no intention on our part to try to lower their status or to denigrate their service in any way. We fully associate ourselves with the many tributes paid to them from both sides of the Committee. That has been one of the pleasant features of the debate. It has not pursued a narrow party line but has examined factually a most important service.

My hon. Friend the Member for Winchester, who speaks with expert knowledge, was right when he said that we cannot examine the service as a whole but must take each country as a special case and examine it on its merits. What is right for one country is not necessarily appropriate for another. It is improper to assume, as has been assumed by many hon. Members, that an ambassador is, in some mysterious way, entirely precluded from having any contact with trade unions or employers in the country where he is situated. I think that is a most improper and quite impracticable conclusion, and it does not fit the facts. In some countries, where the population is largely peasant and not industrial, it may be that for the time being that kind of representation is best; then as industrialisation occurs that might be the time to consider the addition to the staff of a labour attaché.

I would mention again that, as my right hon. Friend said quite plainly, we have an open mind on this whole matter. We are not tied to any particular number of labour attachés; but we are tied to the necessity for running the service efficiently and putting the right men in the right jobs, as well as trying to see that this service also fits into the general pattern of reasonable Government economy, as every service of necessity must do in present conditions. That is what we are hoping to do.

It would be quite improper to assume that every embassy must as of right have a labour attaché attached to it. That is why, in our new grouping, we have tried to be sensible. For example, we have suspended the labour attaché in Denmark, but, as those of us who have business connections with Scandinavia know, Scandinavia is largely one economic unit; and therefore our attaché in Stockholm is well placed to meet the needs of Scandinavia as a whole. In a country which has a separate problem, like Finland, we have a separate attaché. I do not think, therefore, that there is any great loss of efficiency in dropping our attaché in Denmark. We will see how the Scandinavian concept of running the service works out.

The same thing applies to the Low Countries, where we have now got one attaché centrally situated. He will serve the whole area. I agree that the problem of Venezuela is perhaps more difficult. It will be necessary for our representative in Mexico to handle the particular problems of that area. But I think we are right to try the experiment, and we must see how it works out.

There is one other point to which I must make reference. Perhaps I misunderstood my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South (Sir W. Darling), because I may not have been listening carefully to him. But if he meant to say that the members of our labour attaché staff, as individuals, were either politically biased or have departed from the traditional Civil Service attitude of no party politics, I must differ from him. I must tell him that it is incorrect, and that all our labour attachés comport themselves in the most correct manner.

Sir W. Darling

My hon. Friend may be relieved if I say that that is not what I said.

Mr. Watkinson

No doubt I misunderstood my hon. Friend.

Perhaps I should now try to be a little more constructive, and give a little more information to the Committee on what this great service is doing, because one or two hon. Members seem to have some doubts that our position is rather weak, for example, in South-East Asia. The Committee would like to know that Mr. Cowan, the Labour Adviser attached to the Commissioner-General for South-East Asia, recently had the interesting and somewhat onerous task of being consulted by the That Government regarding the whole of their labour legislation. He was able to make recommendations which I believe that Government found very helpful. I believe that his recommendations will actually be embodied in the new code of labour regulations. That is the sort of job which our attachés do so well.

May I give another example? The Middle East has been suggested as another area where the labour attaché has perhaps a difficult job. I read through all the reports of the labour attachés, and very fascinating, informed and efficient reports they are. Our attaché covering the Middle East recently produced some reports on conditions in that area which I think were more factual and down to earth than anything sent to our Government and the Foreign Office from any other source.

Finally, as we are not discussing this question in a party political way—the right hon. Gentleman opposite gave us a good lead in that respect—I would not like it to go out from this Committee that these people, stationed all over the world and doing a very difficult job, are felt here to be wanting in their task or lacking in skill and application. I am sure that that is not the feeling of any hon. Member who has spoken. The question before us is whether we should have made these cuts. The first two cuts—China and Poland—were inevitable. It is no use spending money on labour attachés in countries where they cannot do useful work. I hope I have dealt with the last three cuts, with Scandinavia, with the reason of grouping the Low Countries, and with Venezuela.

I hope I have made it plain that we regard the whole of these services as one of the most important arms of the Minister of Labour, and we intend to keep an open mind on how they are run. We will always look at the position again. We will look at the various suggestions made during the debate,

although I cannot commit my right hon. and learned Friend to any decision one way or the other; but we will consider most carefully the suggestions made during the debate.

The last point I want to make concerns assistant labour attachés. Here we have not made any cuts at all, so that we still have 17 labour attachés and six assistant labour attachés, making a total staff of 23. I think that is one more than the highest figure ever reached by labour attachés alone. On the whole, we feel that this service has not been impaired or spoiled in any way by the action of the Government. We feel that its members are doing a most vital and useful task, and I hope the Committee will support and encourage them in the difficult job they have to do in difficult circumstances.

We will continue to keep a close eye on the service, and we will certainly watch most carefully to see that the important areas of the world are properly covered by labour attachés who can provide the kind of information which probably no other person could do. Therefore, from that point of view, the labour attachés are unique, and they must be preserved within the sensible framework of efficiency and economy. I therefore hope that the Committee will wish the service well, and will confirm the action of the Government.

Mr. Bevan

In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply from the Government, I beg to move, "That a sum not exceeding £12,774,000, be granted for the said service."

Question put.

The Committee divided: Ayes, 167; Noes, 212.

Division No. 205.] AYES [7.1 p.m
Albu, A. H. Bowles, F. G. Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C
Allen, Arthur (Bosworth) Braddock, Mrs. Elizabeth Edelman, M.
Allen, Scholefield (Crewe) Brockway, A. F. Edwards, Rt. Hon. John (Brighouse)
Anderson, Frank (Whitehaven) Brook, Dryden (Halifax) Edwards, W. J. (Stepney)
Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R. Brown, Thomas (Ince) Evans, Albert (Islington, S. W.)
Awbery, S. S. Champion, A. J. Evans, Edward (Lowestoft)
Bacon, Miss Alice Chetwynd, G. R Fernyhough, E.
Bellenger, Rt. Hon. F. J Clunie, J. Finch, H. J
Bence, C. R. Collick, P. H. Fletcher, Eric (Islington, E)
Benn, Hon. Wedgwood Corbet, Mrs. Freda Gibson, C. W.
Beswick, F. Cove, W. G. Gooch, E. G.
Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale) Craddock, George (Bradford, S) Greenwood, Anthony (Rossendale)
Bing, G. H. C. Crosland, C. A. R. Grenfell, Rt. Hon D. R
Blackburn, F. Daines, P. Grey, C. F.
Blenkinsop, A Daiton, Rt. Hon. H. Griffiths, David (Rother Valley
Boardman, H. Davies, Harold (Leek) Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly)
Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G Deer, G. Hall, Rt. Hon. Glenvil (Colne Valley)
Bowden, H. W. Delargy, H. J Hall, John T. (Gateshead, W.)
Hamilton, W. W. Mason, Roy Shackleton, E. A. A
Hannan, W. Mayhew, C. P. Short, E. W.
Hargreaves, A. Mellish, R. J. Shurmer, P. L. E.
Hastings, S. Messer, Sir F. Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)
Hayman, F. H. Mikardo, Ian Slater, Mrs H. (Stoke-on-Trent)
Healey, Denis (Leeds S. E.) Mitchison, G. R. Slater, J. (Durham, Sedgefield)
Herbison, Miss M. Moody, A. S. Smith, Norman (Nottingham, S.)
Hewitson, Capt. M. Morgan, Dr. H. B. W. Snow, J. W.
Hobson, C. R. Morley, R. Sorensen, R. W.
Holman, P. Morris, Percy (Swansea, W.) Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank
Houghton, Douglas Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Lewisham, S.) Sparks, J. A.
Hoy, J. H. Mort, D. L Steele, T.
Hudson, James (Ealing, N.) Moyle, A. Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.)
Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire) Mulley, F. W. Summerskill, Rt. Hon. E.
Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.) Murray, J. D. Sylvester, G. O.
Hynd, H. (Accrington) Neal, Harold (Bolsover) Taylor, John (West Lothian)
Irving, W. J. (Wood Green) Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon. P. J. Thomas, Ivor Owen (Wrekin)
Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A. Orbach, M. Thornton, E.
Janner, B. Oswald, T. Tomney, F.
Jeger, Dr. Santo (St. Pancras, S.) Paling, Rt. Hon. W. (Dearne Valley) Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn
Jones, David (Hartlepool) Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury) Viant, S. P.
Jones, Frederick Elwyn (West Ham, S.) Palmer, A. M. F. Webb, Rt. Hon. M. (Bradford, C.)
Keenan, W. Pannell, Charles Wells, Percy (Faversham)
Key, Rt. Hon. C. W. Pargiter, G. A. West, D. G.
King, Dr. H. M. Parker, J. Wheeldon, W. E.
Kinlay, J. Paton, J. Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.
Lee, Frederick (Newton) Pearson, A. Wigg, George
Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock) Popplewell, E. Wilcock, Group Capt. C. A. B.
Lever, Leslie (Ardwick) Price, Joseph T. (Westhoughton) Wilkins, W. A.
Lindgren, G. S. Proctor, W. T. Williams, Rt. Hon. Thomas (Don V'll'y)
Lipton, Lt.-Col. M. Pryde, D. J. Williams, W. R. (Droylsden)
Logan, D. G. Reid, William (Camlachie) Williams, W. T. (Hammersmith, S.)
MacColl, J. E. Rhodes, H. Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)
McGovern, J. Richards, R. Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.
McInnes, J. Robens, Rt. Hon. A. Yates, V. F.
McKay, John (Wallsend) Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
McLeavy, F. Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling) Ross, William Mr. Holmes and
Manuel, A. C Royle, C. Mr. James Johnson.
Aitken, W. T. Darling, Sir William (Edinburgh, S.) Holt, A. F.
Allan, R. A. (Paddington, S.) Davies, Rt. Hn. Clement (Montgomery) Horobin, I. M.
Alport, C. J. M. Deedes, W. F. Horsbrugh, Rt. Hon. Florence
Amery, Julian (Preston, N.) Digby, S. Wingfield Howard, Hon. Greville (St. Ives)
Anstruther-Gray, Major W. J. Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. McA. Hudson, Sir Austin (Lewisham, N.)
Arbuthnot, John Doughty, C. J. A. Hurd, A. R.
Assheton, Rt. Hon. R. (Blackburn, W.) Douglas-Hamilton, Lord Malcolm Hutchinson, Sir Geoffrey (Ilford, N.)
Astor, Hon. J. J. Drayson, G. B. Hutchison, Lt.-Com. Clark (E'b'rgh, W.)
Baker, P. A. D. Dugdale, Rt. Hon. Sir T. (Richmond) Hylton-Foster, H. B. H.
Baldwin, A. E. Duncan, Capt. J. A. L. Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)
Banks, Col. C. Duthie, W. S. Johnson, Eric (Blackley)
Barber, Anthony Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E Joynson-Hicks, Hon. L. W
Barlow, Sir John Erroll, F. J. Kaberry, D.
Beach, Maj. Hicks Fell, A. Kerr, H. W.
Beamish, Maj. Tufton Finlay, Graeme Lambert, Hon. G.
Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.) Fisher, Nigel Law, Rt. Hon. R. K.
Bell, Ronald (Bucks, S.) Fleetwood-Hesketh, R. F Leather, E. H. C.
Bevins, J. R. (Toxteth) Fletcher-Cooke, C. Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.
Birch, Nigel Foot, M. M. Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield)
Black, C. W. Ford, Mrs. Patricia Lindsay, Martin
Bossom, Sir A. C. Fraser, Sir Ian (Morecambe & Lonsdale) Linstead, Sir H. N.
Boyd-Carpenter, J. A. Galbraith, T. G. D. (Hillhead) Llewellyn, D. T.
Braithwaite, Sir Albert (Harrow, W.) Garner-Evans, E. H. Lloyd, Rt. Hon. G. (King's Norton)
Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W. H. George, Rt. Hon. Maj. G. Lloyd Lloyd, Maj. Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.)
Brooke, Henry (Hampstead) Gomme-Duncan, Col. A. Lockwood, Lt.-Col. J. C.
Brooman-White, R. C. Gower, H. R. Longden, Gilbert
Buchan-Hepburn, Rt. Hon. P. G. T. Graham, Sir Fergus Lucas, Sir Jocelyn (Portsmouth, S.)
Bullard, D. G. Gridley, Sir Arnold Lucas, P. B. (Brentford)
Bullus, Wing Commander E. E. Grimston, Hon. John (St. Albans) Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh
Burden, F. F. A. Grimston, Sir Robert (Westbury) McAdden, S. J.
Campbell, Sir David Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.) McCorquodale, Rt. Hon. M. S
Cary, Sir Robert Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye) Mackeson, Brig. H. R.
Channon, H. Harvey, Air Cdre. A. V. (Macclesfield) McKibbin, A. J.
Clarke, Col. Ralph (East Grinstead) Harvey, Ian (Harrow, E.) Mackie, J. H. (Galloway)
Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmouth, W.) Harvie-Watt, Sir George Maclay, Rt. Hon. John
Cole, Norman Hay, John Maclean, Fitzroy
Colegate, W. A. Heath, Edward Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries)
Conant, Maj. R. J. E. Higgs, J. M. C. Maitland, Comdr. J. F. W. (Horncastle)
Cooper-Key, E. M. Hill, Dr. Charles (Luton) Manningham-Buller, Sir R. E.
Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne) Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe) Markham, Major Sir S. F.
Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C. Hinchingbrooke, Viscount Marples, A. E.
Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E. Hirst, Geoffrey Marshall, Douglas (Bodmin)
Crouch, R. F. Holland-Martin, C. J. Maude, Angus
Crowder, Sir John (Finchley) Hollis, M. C. Maydon, Lt.-Comdr. S. L. C.
Medlicott, Brig. F Remnant, Hon. P Thomas, Rt. Hon. J. P. L. (Hereford)
Mellor, Sir John Renton, D. L. M. Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury)
Molson, A. H. E. Robertson, Sir David Thompson, Kenneth (Walton)
Monckton, Rt. Hon. Sir Walter Robinson, Roland (Blackpool, S.) Thompson, Lt.-Cdr. R. (Croydon, W.)
Moore, Lt.-Col. Sir Thomas Robson-Brown, W. Thorneycroft, Rt. Hn. Peter (Monmouth)
Morrison, John (Salisbury) Roper, Sir Harold Tilney, John
Mott-Radclyffe, C. E. Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard Touche, Sir Gordon
Nabarro, G. D. N. Russell, R. S. Turner, H. F. L.
Nicholson, Godfrey (Farnham) Ryder, Capt. R. E. D. Tweedsmuir, Lady
Nicolson, Nigel (Bournemouth, E.) Salter, Rt. Hon. Sir Arthur Vaughan-Morgan, J. K.
Nield, Basil (Chester) Scott, R. Donald Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)
Nugent, G. R. H. Scott-Miller, Cmdr. R. Ward, Hon. George (Worcester)
Nutting, Anthony Shepherd, William Ward, Miss I. (Tynemouth)
Odey, G. W. Simon, J. E. S. (Middlesbrough, W.) Waterhouse, Capt. Rt. Hon. C.
O'Neill, Phelim (Co. Antrim, N) Smithers, Peter (Winchester) Watkinson, H. A.
Ormsby-Gore, Hon. W. D. Smithers, Sir Waldron (Orpington) Webbe, Sir H. (London & Westminster)
Orr, Capt. L. P. S Speir, R. M. Williams, Rt. Hon. Charles (Torquay)
Osborne, C. Spens, Sir Patrick (Kensington, S.) Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)
Partridge, E. Stanley, Capt. Hon. Richard Williams, Sir Herbert (Croydon, E.)
Peake, Rt. Hon. O. Stevens, G. P. Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)
Perkins, W. R. D. Steward, W. A. (Woolwich, W.) Williams, R. Dudley (Exeter)
Peto, Brig. C. H. M. Stoddart-Scott, Col. M. Wills, G.
Powell, J. Enoch Strauss, Henry (Norwich, S.) Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.) Studholme, H. G. Wood, Hon. R.
Profumo, J. D. Summers, G. S.
Raikes, Sir Victor Sutcliffe, Sir Harold TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Rayner, Brig. R. Taylor, Charles (Eastbourne) Sir Cedric Drewe and
Redmayne, M. Taylor, William (Bradford, N.) Mr. Oakshott.

It being after Seven o'clock, The CHAIRMAN left the Chair, further Proceeding standing postponed until after the consideration of Private Business set down by direction of THE CHAIRMAN OF WAYS AND MEANS under Standing Order No. 7 (Time for taking Private Business).

Mr. SPEAKER resumed the Chair.