HL Deb 29 November 1939 vol 115 cc27-61

LORD ADDISON rose to draw attention to the many interferences by Government Departments with the lives and business of citizens during the present war that are not necessary for the efficient prosecution of the war or for public safety; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, before referring to the Motion that is on the Paper in my name I am sure your Lordships will allow me, on behalf of my noble friends, to express our extreme regret at the absence to-day of the noble Earl, Lord Lucan. We all know how he helps us, regardless of Party, and one can truly say that he has the affection of every one of us. We are only too sorry to know how grave the accident is. We hope that, notwithstanding, he will very soon be here to help us again.

In the Motion that is on the Paper, I will ask your Lordships to observe that it is limited to matters which "are not necessary for the efficient prosecution of the war or for public safety." We all know that the war must of necessity cause widespread interference with the lives of all citizens, and I do not suppose that there is one of us here but whose home life and life in many other ways has been profoundly overturned by the war. Well, we accept that. We know also that the war must of necessity interfere with many departments of trade and industry, and I think all our citizens are willing to endure this gladly for the cause in which we are all unitedly embarked. I would like to add that I will endeavour to avoid saying anything, notwithstanding the critical form of my Motion, which will provide pabulum for the German broadcaster, who, I understand, makes use of our debates in various ways; although I do not expect that anything which any of us will say would interfere with his ingenuity of invention if he were so disposed. But the fact that the war must of necessity interfere with the affairs of all business men and with the lives of all our citizens makes it the more necessary that the regulations and ordinances which accompany our war effort should have been thought out carefully beforehand and should be applied with discretion. It is because I feel that in many respects these essential safeguards—even the safeguard of what I might call ordinary common sense—have been lacking in some directions that I have put this Motion on the Paper.

I propose to refer to four different aspects of this subject—matters relating to the black-out, matters relating to the requisitioning of schools, hotels and other premises, and matters relating to what I might call the compulsory eclipse of business in some directions, and to certain of the Defence of the Realm Regulations. It did not need the warning of the Prime Minister at the Guildhall to induce me to refrain from blaming civil servants. It is quite unfair to blame them at any time, because they are not able to answer for themselves. It is the Ministers who are responsible, and whose actions we shall call in question. I can imagine that the civil servant who was inspired by the Minister who drafted the Regulation about the curfew, which I shall read later on, might well feel it his business to administer orders in such a way that if the people did not like it, well then, they must just lump it. That appears to be the spirit of that Regulation to which I shall refer.

It is a commonplace that the successful prosecution of the war depends not only upon the heroism and skill of our fighting Forces, upon which we can all confidently rely, but also upon the staying power of the people and upon the maintenance of trade and industry to such an extent that we shall be able to pay for the war. It is from these two points of view that I want to examine the case before us. The other day, I dare say in common with many of your Lordships, I had sent to me a copy of that entertaining little paper called Blighty, and there was a very striking cartoon in it. It pictured an A.R.P. warden sheltering more or less in the rain under the supports of a board upon which there was a placard, well-known to him and to all of us, to the effect that "Your courage, your cheerfulness, your resolution, will bring us victory"; and in the cartoon the A.R.P. warden, getting what shelter he could from the slanting rain, and shivering in his coat, was made to observe: "I should like to meet the bloke wot wrote this poster." Well, it was a very significant cartoon.

I am sure we all have had more or less intimate experience of what this black-out means. It affects us all in our homes. We black out our windows every night before it becomes dark, I am sure with diligence, but it is a business getting back home, as we all know. I was talking to a workman the other day, and he said that he left work at seven o'clock. He told me where he lived, and said that in the ordinary way he got home at a quarter to eight but now, with rather more than a mile to find his way through the darkened streets, he gets home at half past eight. This black-out, as we know, has had very far-reaching effects on all sorts of businesses. It has caused widespread unemployment. The other night as I was thinking about this speech and groping my way along the street, a very dark street, and hoping that I should avoid a lamp post, a sentence from Byron's ode to "Darkness" came into my mind, in which he said: Happy were those who dwelt within the eye Of the volcanoes, and their mountain torch. I confess that that night I should have been glad even of that sort of torch to show me where the road was.

We are all willing to endure it—all the people are willing to endure it—so long as we are satisfied that it is administered sensibly and it is necessary. I feel sure that those who precipitated the black-out upon us—doubtless for good reasons from the point of view of preventing air raids—had not made any previous examination of the operation of the system, for example, in respect of deaths on the roads. I find that in September, 1939, there were more than twice as many people killed on the roads as in the corresponding month of the previous year. We have already lost more than a thousand people in excess of the number of those who were killed on the roads last year. I cannot but think that in this age of electricity and of the control of lighting, if sufficient forethought had been given to the matter, it would have been possible to illuminate a pile of sandbags in such a way as not to help aircraft overhead. It should have been possible, without helping the enemy, to show us a lamp-post or a kerbstone so that an ordinary citizen, anxiously listening in the dark, might be able to cross the road with reasonable safety. That is not the case at present, and that is why so many of our fellow citizens have been killed. It is due to lack of forethought, lack of experiment.

I wish I saw a more ready disposition than there is at present to improve upon it. The dreadful accident in Westminster Hall last night, which has deprived us of the services of Lord Lucan, surely brings home to us the proportions of the case. We can darken the windows. They come round darkening these windows long before it is dark. We can darken the windows of Westminster Hall. It is absurd to suggest that it is necessary to make Westminster Hall a dangerous sepulchre after five o'clock at night. I just do not believe it. It is because nobody has taken the trouble to make it otherwise. That is why I have no compunction at all in bringing this subject before your Lordships. A railway station in these days is the height of "dismality"—they are dreadful places. It is my business, as one who lives in the country, to have to go to them when I go home. There, again, one feels there has been the same kind of lack of fore-thought and the same kind of drive from the head. It is a dangerous business to get into, and a still more dangerous business sometimes to get out of, a train. One feels somehow that there has been a spirit abroad in the administration of this provision which has been too thoughtless of the convenience and safety of the people. I cannot but feel—good as their reputation is as a rule—that that spirit has filtered down to the railways in many respects.

I was interested some time ago, as an illustration of what I may call the careless disposition of which I am complaining, to find how the public had responded to the issue of cheap day tickets. These are the facts with regard to one particular station. After a considerable outcry on the part of people who wanted to go to town in the middle of the day for shopping and other reasons, it was decided to issue cheap day tickets after ten o'clock. There had been a train at ten minutes past ten, but that was taken off. The first train therefore is twenty-five minutes past eleven. The housewife, going to town under this dispensation, gets a cheap ticket at 3s. 7d. instead of 5s.; but having done the household shopping she gets to the station at, say, half-past five to go home in time to prepare her husband's supper, and is asked for 1s. 5d. extra at the barrier. In other words, the only condition on which the ticket can be used is that the housewife should be prepared to wander around the darkened streets long after the shops are shut and to go home at seven o'clock. It is quite absurd to administer this provision in this spirit.

Now I come to something which has had a grave effect on many industries—namely, the method of requisitioning hotels and schools. Let me say I do not wish to cast blame upon the First Commissioner of Works. I have no doubt he was doing what he was told to do, and it is those who told him who really are responsible for what has taken place. It is very easy to be wise after the event, we know, and I do not want to be told that one is taking advantage of talking after the event. It was no doubt necessary to make provision for the requisitioning of premises in the event of severe air raids and for other reasons, to be used when necessary. How extensive that ought to have been I cannot say, not having the facts before me. But at the same time the method and extent of this requisitioning have brought grievous hardships on a large number of prosperous hotels and other institutions. I have here a selection of cases culled from The Times of different dates, wherein we are told that the goods and chattels of thousands of people were seized at a few hours notice. Hotels have been put to enormous cost in removing and storing furniture and equipment; bedding, cutlery, and the like have been confiscated; and even invalids have been bustled out at a few hours notice to do the best they could.

That appears to have happened in quite a considerable number of prosperous towns. Their names have been mentioned in the papers, so I could read them if need be, but here is one which has been publicly mentioned in detail by Mr. Stuart Townend, Secretary of the Hotels and Restaurants Association—the town of Harrogate. Apparently, twenty-four hotels were requisitioned, and one of them, a very large one of which I have particulars, the Majestic Hotel, was emptied and 190 of the hotel staff were abruptly sent home. The place was cleared out and filled with desks, filing cabinets, and scores of office chairs, and some excellent cork lino was spread over the whole place nine weeks since; and nobody has ever gone into it. The same applies to several other places. This system was thought about, according to the statement in the Press, as far back as 1936.

I commend the Government for their foresight in thinking about it as far back as 1936, but if they have been thinking about it since 1936 surely it is reasonable that they should have consulted the Hotel Proprietors Association, and should have made provision for doing the thing sensibly, and giving a notice saying: "We may require your place at forty-eight hours notice, and if so, will you make such-and-such preparations beforehand?" Had this been done no doubt various and numerous adjustments could have been made by the hotel proprietors and their association, instead of which, although it has been discussed and thought about since 1936, they were suddenly descended upon and made to clear out in the way I have described at twelve and twenty-four hours notice. The same applies to a number of schools. I think the recent protest of Lord Lee of Fareham about what happened at Cheltenham is a fair sample of the kind of complaint which is justifiably made. That is all I shall say on that.

I will now turn to another point relating to the dispersal of businesses. I will cut out most of what I was proposing to say on this because I understand other noble Lords are going to speak about the effect of the numerous and bewildering Controls that have been established, and the obstacles that have been interposed in the way of business. We discussed this to some extent the other day in this House, and I will refrain from saying any more about it now except that I think it is impossible to imagine a scheme of control of materials more difficult for a trader to work than that established by the Ministry of Supply. It is scattered all over the country. Your right hand does not know what your left hand is doing. The man who is dealing with aluminium in one place does not know what the man who is dealing with brass somewhere else is doing, and so it is all over the country. There is not what there ought to be, a Central Control for Supplies, to which traders and industrialists could apply, and from which they could be informed reasonably quickly whether they could have their materials and how much and when. That is perfectly practicable, because we did it in the last war. If such a Central Control were established I do not think the difficulty would be greater than the occasion necessitates, but, as it is, applications have to go all over the country for all kinds of ingredients each one of which may be necessary for an efficient manufacture.

I said that this system is needlessly complicated and harassing to industry, and an obstacle to the provisions of those productions which the Chancellor of the Exchequer very rightly says are necessary for the maintenance of our economic power. Other noble Lords will say something about that aspect, but I must refer in a little detail to another aspect of the operations of the Ministry of Supply. I am now speaking of the disregard, or failure to make use, of industrial capacity. I have here an interview in the Sunday Times of last Sunday with the Minister of Supply. It is headed "Spending £2,000,000 a day." If spending were the same as obtaining supplies perhaps there would be a more justifiable heading, but I want to call attention to three sentences which, being in inverted commas, I take it the noble Earl's colleague is responsible for. Let me read them: One of my officers will tell me Minister, we need more x-pounder shells,' and he puts the figures before me—actual production, so many shells: estimated requirements, so many; deficiency, so many. We then get down immediately to the essential questions—where the shells can be manufactured, whether the firm to which the contract is to be given will buy the machinery, or whether the Department must supply it, if a new building is necessary and what sites are available, if machine-tools must be bought or if these can be assembled from our arsenals—to the last detail. And the final sentence is: In a remarkably short time we are able to go to the Treasury with a complete scheme for a factory to make so many x-pounder shells, to be built on a site available in Blankshire, with every item of the cost set out. That is what I suppose the Minister said, as it is in inverted commas. I confess I cannot remember in three short sentences ever to have found a greater amount of coagulated nonsence. That is the only way it can be described. As if the establishment of a factory somewhere in Blankshire was the point. We all know that the shell requires cartridge cases and fuses and a great array of material for filling—a vast programme of explosive materials and the filling and assembly of them is involved. That is entirely apart from this fairy factory, which in any case will not be turning anything out for from twelve to fifteen months at the best.

What do we find coincident with this? We find this, if noble Lords will bear with me for two or three minutes. Whilst this visionary factory is being projected the fact is that there is a great mass of industrial capacity not being used, that no official attempt is being made to use it, and that this scheme effectually has stopped its use. Let me give your Lordships one or two illustrations from quite recent records. This is a record reported in the Daily Telegraph of October 30, from a review by its industrial correspondent of the workshops of the London area. He says: I have just completed [a tour] of the small workshops and foundries in London in which manufacturers, capable of dealing with Government orders, are being overlooked and their machinery left idle. … Twenty-five years ago their lathes and benches were mobilised for the manufacture of the requirements of the lighting Services, but to-day few of them are doing Government work. … I came across not one single instance of an official of the Ministry having visited the premises to see what they were capable of. That is a grievous omission, I suggest. The writer goes on: I did speak to the principals of a number of concerns who had, of their own accord, informed the Ministry of the facilities they could offer and whose letters have so far been ignored or, after long delay, acknowledged on a printed card…

Some of us have raised this question before. The noble and gallant Lord opposite did his best to reply to me on this subject some little time ago, but since he did his best to defend the Ministry, I have had some later information, on the eighth of the present month. This relates to factories in London, the Home Counties and the Midlands: Some firms have failed completely to get rearmament orders … At one engineering works with a capacity of 3,000 tons of gravity die castings a year I found eight out of ten furnaces idle. The factory is producing one per cent. of its possible output. … Telegrams to the War Office and Air Ministry undertaking to produce up to ten tons of die castings per week…have not been acknowledged.… Plant which could be producing tons of munitions a week is lying idle, skilled labour is gradually having to be dismissed from our employ, and an organisation is being allowed to potter along to extinction at a fraction of its potential productive power. … I do not think those statements are in any way exaggerated. All the inquiries one has made and all the reports one has received show that this kind of thing is prevalent all over the country.

In a report only ten days ago, we got one of the explanations: Appeals have been made in vain to numerous Government Departments for the opportunity to adapt our craftsmen and workshops to work of national importance. He feels that the authorities… I am quoting a big employer— have come to the conclusion that it is better to build new works and to train new men than to utilise the space and labour which is available up and down the country. That tallies exactly with the Minister's visionary factories and with his words about shells which I have already reported to your Lordships. And there is this other vice attaching to the present system—this is a good example of many others, from the Daily Telegraph of the 16th of the present month— it has been left to the small concerns to worry every available Government Department for such crumbs as the Ministry of Supply have left over from the feast so lavishly provided for the big manufacturers. In other words, the Ministry have failed to make provision for the mobilisation of the productive capacity of hundreds of workshops and, judging by the statement of the Minister which was given such prominence in the Sunday Times, it is their policy to go on ignoring them. The noble Earl shakes his head; but if that is not their policy why do they adopt these methods? At present contracts appear to be given out in bulk or to be reserved for these ideal factories, and the smaller firms have to pick up what subcontracting they can from the larger groups.

I suggest to your Lordships that that is essentially wrong. You will not mobilise the engineering resources of this country in that way. However amiable and efficient may be the numerous Rear-Admirals and retired Majors whose life history was described to us the other day by the noble and gallant Earl opposite in picturesque language, you cannot possibly bring together the engineering resources of these hundreds of unused workshops in that way. It can only be done by having an organisation in the districts which will mobilise their resources through an agency they understand and know and can work with, and by providing them with the necessary supplies of drawings, specifications, and all the rest of it. The Minister said in a speech in the House of Commons that he was hoping that kind of thing would end. Well, I trust the noble Marquess who is going to reply will be able to assure us that we have got beyond the region of hope and that something is being realised. The description that I have given to your Lordships is strictly accurate. It is an understatement of the case, by far an understatement. The methods which are being adopted by the Minister are unsuitable in themselves and therefore inadequate in their results.

I am going to trouble your Lordships with one other illustration only of the kind of thing to which I am drawing attention and that is one of the Defence of the Realm Regulations. When these Regulations were announced they were—shall I say, referred back? They were referred to a Committee because of criticisms in another place of some of the Regulations which seemed to endanger the liberty of the subject and to place powers in the hands of the Executive which might be administered, perhaps unwittingly, to the hardship of the citizen. They have been drastically revised and the revision was published yesterday, but the Regulation to which I am going to refer has not been revised. It is No. 37 and I am quoting it as an illustration of the same temper as we have seen in the black-out, as we have seen in the requisitioning of hotels, as we have seen in the ignoring of these numerous small workshops. It shows, I was going to say a Hitlerian disposition, but that might be an objectionable adjective: I will say autocratic. This is the Regulation: The Secretary of State may, as respects any area in the United Kingdom, by order direct that, subject to any exemptions for which provision may be made by the order, no person in that area shall, between such hours as may be specified in the order, be out of doors except under the authority of a written permit granted by such authority or person as may be specified in the order. There is no qualification, no question of an emergency, simply a blank cheque to the Secretary of State.

I hope that when the time comes we shall be able to frame a Motion and get some support in objecting to such a Regulation. Whether we shall do so effectively is another matter. I have never read a speech defending a Regulation which was more lukewarm in character than the speech of the Home Secretary in another place. It was said that there was such a Regulation in the last war. Well I did not know it and I am ashamed if there was one. It was said to be of a somewhat similar kind. Anyhow, thank goodness we had officers of State who were sufficiently sensible never to use it. Now that this proposal has been discovered I suggest to your Lordships that we ought to refuse to entertain it. The only possible emergencies which the Secretary of State contemplated in another place would make such a Regulation necessary were that there might be disturbances of a very extensive kind in a town, and that to safeguard public safety and order it might be necessary to issue a Curfew Order, or that there might be extensive bombing and in order to give the fire-fighting services and other services a chance a Curfew Order might have to be imposed. Well, in regard to the last suggestion, I think that however curious citizens may be to watch an enemy aeroplane, they will be just as anxious not to be blown to bits as the Secretary of State himself. They will take what cover they can.

So far as the second emergency is concerned, it is purely visionary. But with regard to the first, that there might be a likelihood of disturbance, there are plenty of powers in the law as it is. But even apart from that, I suggest that if a Regulation of this kind could be justified in certain circumstances, the Regulation should contain a statement of the conditions upon which it should be issued. That is to say, that the Secretary of State may, with respect to any area in the United Kingdom where so-and-so is likely to occur or has occurred, make such-and-such an order. You could state your conditions which would limit the circumstances in which the order could be issued. That, we will say, might be a justifiable order. The conditions could be so stated—I know they could be so stated—as to make it an order to which reasonable objection could not be taken. But as this order stands, it is a complete blank cheque.

There are no conditions. If you went out to post a letter you would be in danger of being hauled up. If a workman went and had a little refreshment with a neighbour in an adjoining "pub" he would commit an offence. That is true unless in the order all these things were excepted. Of course I shall be told—I am sure the noble Marquess will tell me—that we have most reasonable Ministers and that they will not do these foolish things. I have no doubt he will say that. I have no doubt that Sir John Anderson will not do foolish things; I can trust him. But that is no reason why the conditions under which this very drastic order should be issued should fail to be stated in the order. I confess I have not too much confidence in the discretion of people who can leave our place dark and dangerous at night, and who can propose orders of this kind without any qualification. Quite frankly, as an ordinary citizen, I am disposed to be extraordinarily friendly to every Minister, but I still think it is dangerous and not right that that power should be placed in anybody's hands. The conditions should be stated, and I hope your Lordships will agree that they should be stated, to this drastic curtailment which is threatened to the ordinary and reasonable liberties and movements of inoffensive citizens.

I suggest that we need all our resources at this critical time, and our resources consist not only of our trading and manufacturing capacity and skill, but also of the good will, co-operation and endurance of the mass of the people. It is necessary that the Government Departments concerned should bear in mind, more acutely than they appear to be bearing in mind at present, the necessity of obtaining and retaining the support and the good will of the ordinary citizen. They should refrain from going out of their way to interfere with the incentives to his cheerfulness so far as they safely can, and frame their methods to mobilise our industrial and trade resources and refrain from putting artificial barriers in their way. It is on this account, with these four groups of illustrations to support it, that I have brought this Motion before your Lordships. Many others could be brought forward, but I hope I have said enough to suffice for me to move the Motion that is in my name.

4.15 p.m.


My Lords, I hope I may be allowed to associate my friends and myself with the expression of regret and sympathy which was uttered by my noble friend Lord Addison in regard to the most unhappy accident which has befallen one whom I think we all like to call our friend, Lord Lucan. As a very junior member of this House and as one not belonging to his Party, I should nevertheless like to pay a tribute to the universal kindness which he shows to all the younger members of this House and which has so much endeared him to us. We are looking forward with great anxiety to news of his satisfactory progress, and we hope that it may be no very long time before we see him among us once more.

In supporting this Motion, I want to make it clear that we have no desire to attack or to embarrass the Government in the efforts they are making, and that we are only anxious to help them in those efforts. But even criticism can be helpful. Some of us who had experience in the last war remember how it was only public pressure which enabled willing Ministers to get rid, not only of many of the Regulations under D.O.R.A., but also of unreasonable restrictions and regulations which had outlived their usefulness. This Motion covers a very wide ground and I do not propose to traverse the whole of it, but with your Lordships' permission I should like just in a few minutes to say something about the interference which, perhaps necessarily but to some extent unfortunately, has been placed upon the trading community in this country.

The official mind, of course properly and indeed necessarily, works by means of orders and regulations, and I should like to begin by expressing our deep sense of obligation to the great body of civil servants who before the outbreak of war had worked out in such admirable detail the many difficulties that might arise and the methods of dealing with them. But in war it is always the unexpected that happens. Many of the contingencies foreseen have not in fact arisen, and this is a situation with which the civil servant is not quite so well able to cope. It requires more courage and initiative in a Government servant to take off one regulation than to put on ten, especially if in so doing there is even a slight element of risk. That is the real reason why Government control is so often slower and less efficient than commercial enterprise, where risk is a factor always to be taken into account. If this is so it is essential, if we are to maintain the foreign trade which is vital to our success, that we should without delay relax and if possible abolish all Controls which cannot be completely justified in the different circumstances of to-day.

There can be no question that there is a considerable feeling of uneasiness regarding the present position of our trade, which does not seem to be recovering as we had hoped from the shock of war—not as successfully as it did in 1914. I will not weary your Lordships with figures, but in the second month unemployment has actually increased, although in September, 1914, it went down. While, of course, imports have necessarily largely increased, exports have only gone up 6⅔ per cent. as against 24 per cent. in the corresponding period of 1914. This, of course, I agree is very largely due to to the more rapid imposition of a rigid system of Controls, many of which were and still are necessary. But we want to be assured that interference with business is kept down to the essential minimum, and it would increase public confidence if we could know just where we stand. I should like to ask if there is any reason why we should not be told just how many Controls there are and what are the names of the Controllers; and, if it would not be asking too great labour from the Departments, I think many of us would like to know the numbers of the staffs involved in these Controls. Public opinion secured the abandonment of the Fish Control and has gone very far towards getting rid of the Coal Control, but apart from these there are many Controls which could be worked with far less friction and delay at the present time.

I do not wish to weary your Lordships with many details, though I have been furnished with particulars of delay and obstruction in trade after trade. For example, to take something of not very great importance I wonder why it should be necessary to prohibit the importation into this country of Swiss watches, which have already been paid for and which can have no adverse effect on our foreign exchange, but would give employment to people in a perfectly legitimate business in this country. Then I am troubled, too, as to why the importation of a very small number of American books should be prohibited to a firm which imports a few books from America but which exports a very large number of English books to America and, which is much more important, gives occupation and fees to English writers to write for America. Because the importation of these few books from America has been made impossible, the overheads become so heavy that the firm is threatening to shut down business, with consequent loss of employment and of very necessary dollar exchange which would otherwise be earned by a large number of English writers. In both these cases we are throwing away these foreign credits which we badly need.

But there is one other foreign trade which really does give me very great concern indeed—I mean the very large and most important trade in both directions with our Ally, France. I can best summarise the position by quoting the very important letter published in the Press from the highest authorities to whom we could go, the Presidents of the Anglo-French Chamber of Commerce in Paris and of the French Chamber of Commerce in London. They wrote to The Times to say that Government Departments on both sides of the Channel have elaborated Regulations which impose serious restrictions on Franco-British trade, and our respective chambers of commerce are daily receiving complaints as to their severity. Indeed, we know that a good deal of bad feeling has been engendered, and this is harmful to unity and friendship as between Allies … We are being charitable in assuming that those responsible for drafting these Regulations had no opportunity of consulting interests on the opposite side of the Channel otherwise they would appear to be all the less intelligible. Surely something ought to be done, and done at once, to put an end to a situation between us and our principal Ally such as is thus described by really responsible parties.

Let me give just one more example of the way in which the rigidity of the official mind hampers us. I have been told of a considerable consignment of hams shipped before the war for re-export from this country; they could not be forwarded to their original destination owing to the war, and were held in a British port, but they could not be landed for consumption here because the method of curing failed in a quite minute degree to conform to our Regulations, which had only recently been put into force. Surely that is an example, when we are hearing of the shortage at least of bacon if not of ham, of short-sightedness in the official mind. Similar stories are told of difficulties in the textile and the timber trades, in machinery and electrical appliances—indeed, all through both our import as well as our export trade—and the complaint is so widespread as to be almost universal, of delays ruinous not alone in losing orders but even in the sacrifice of perishable goods.

In the early days compulsion and delay were inevitable, but I am really concerned to find some general remedy which can be applied to these troubles as a whole, and particularly one which will regain the confidence of the commercial classes, which has been so rudely shaken that they are hesitating to undertake fresh commitments. War must in any case make their business more hazardous, but they need to be encouraged rather than discouraged, and that, even if it be at the expense of some of our war effort, for if they cannot carry on we must lose the war; and indeed that is the only way in which we can lose it. It is the confidence of the business world both in itself and in the Government that I am anxious about, and I ought perhaps to mention one more reason for mistrust. It is well known that, in a great many trades, the Control, amounting to dictatorial power, is vested in the leading, that is to say, the largest operators, and there is grave suspicion, in some cases almost the certainty, that this Control is being exercised in the interests of the producers and of the big concerns. Consumers and small dealers believe not only that they are not getting a fair deal to-day, but that later they may be squeezed out altogether. These are not mere individual grievances incidental to a state of war; they are genuine obstacles to victory which have somehow got to be overcome.

I began by saying we recognise that the Government have been doing all they can, but now that the first confusion is over they have got to do more. When the Board of Trade "decides to discuss with major exporting industries with a view to facilitating their operations" it merely shows its complete incapacity for the job. The merchants, not the industries, are the people who export, and the Board of Trade is really a quite unsuitable body to deal with these problems. So, too, when it takes a month to get a reply from the Ministry of Supply, business becomes impossible, as it does when a Government Department rules that "prices quoted are subject to their being adjusted to the prices ruling on the date of delivery." How is anybody to make a contract for delivery of stuff abroad, which we want to sell to neutral countries, with conditions like that imposed by the Government? The trouble is that the existing Departments are not only overworked but they are quite unsuited for this work, and nothing but a really drastic remedy will serve.

The Board of Trade, as I have said, is no use for this purpose, for its tradition is one almost wholly of restriction, and it is manned by officials, to whose capacity and public spirit I have already paid tribute, but who are quite unsuited to take the broad and sympathetic view which is required to command the confidence of the business world. I know we have a Department of Overseas Trade, the doubtful and not quite recognised offspring of what I believe is called a liaison between the Foreign Office and the Board of Trade, but its powers are very small and it can deal with only a section of the trade. Other Departments interfere, and no doubt necessarily, with trade, but there is no authority on the other side to see, not fair play, for that perhaps is a minor matter to-day, but that the balance of advantage is kept in view, and that the national interest is not sacrificed to the Departmental.

The only remedy which will command public confidence is to set up a special body to deal with these problems with knowledge and sympathy, and with a predisposition to decontrol rather than to control. A Special Committee has been suggested, but I would submit that something much more drastic is required. In the last war there was no hesitation in setting up new ad hoc Ministries to deal with fresh problems as they arose. What I should wish to see is a real Ministry of Commerce, with at its head a Minister of sufficient standing to hold his own with the other Departments and with access, in case of real need, to the War Cabinet for decision. Such a Ministry, staffed, like those in the last war, largely by business men, and under the guidance of a really eminent figure in the commercial world—I would suggest somebody of the standing of, say, Lord Stamp, Lord Perry or Sir John Reith, a great outstanding figure in the commercial world—would command universal confidence and occupy a totally different position from the Board of Trade or the Department of Overseas Trade. It would have as its first duty the removal of all unnecessary shackles on trade, and then its active encouragement by negotiation on business rather than official lines; for example, it could not only deal with the complaints of the British and French Chambers of Commerce, but it might very well arrange, as we did in the last war, for the dropping by France of all her protective tariffs on food, and in return we might very well abandon all the vexatious pre-war quotas which are still in existence.

Instead of regarding every complaint as a tiresome interference with its own urgent job, which is the natural, and indeed the proper, attitude of the existing Departments, its main object would be to help the merchants and the manufacturers. Its business would be to lend a sympathetic ear not to the complaints but to the difficulties which traders would bring to it; and that sympathetic hearing would produce far better results than the somewhat perfunctory and official attention which is all the existing overworked Departments can spare. Most of the difficulties can be solved by the expenditure of a little time and good will, and the commercial community, which really does understand its own business, can often—indeed generally—suggest a solution acceptable to both sides. I am sure the business world would welcome such an organisation, and would give it its confidence, especially if it felt that in the last resort the Ministry could carry its case to an authority higher than the departmental official who to-day has the last word. I do not suppose the need for such an appeal would occur save in the rarest instances, but the tact that it was possible would restore that confidence the lack of which is hampering so much of our private enterprise to-day.

I would urge, too, the creation of a Ministry of Commerce for another and perhaps equally important purpose. Commerce is being dislocated, if not indeed destroyed, in a completely haphazard manner; decisions are taken, perhaps necessarily, in haste, with no appreciation of their ultimate effect; and in particular I have yet to learn that it has been made the duty of anyone or any organisation to plan ahead with especial regard to what in the last war were called "priorities." That is to say, to make sure that permits are arranged and tonnage reserved far enough ahead to ensure the due arrival of necessities such as feeding stuffs and raw materials rather than non-essentials and luxuries. An instance which I have particularly in my mind is the unforeseen shortage of certain feeding stuffs which, I am told, may bring about the premature slaughter of our valuable reserves of poultry, pigs, and even cattle. I have no doubt the Ministry of Supply is doing all this within the limits of its own requirements, but it is concerned with pig-iron, not pig food, with explosives, not with exports, and yet in the long run they are of equal importance. Indeed, now that the machine has been set to work it is probably true that it is only on the civilian side that we can be beaten. "Pourvu que les civiles tiennent" was the phrase last time, and it is just as true to-day. I am not afraid of the civilian morale, but the creation by the civilians of the wealth, and especially the foreign exchange, needed to pay for the war on its present scale is scarcely less important than the output of the Ministry of Supply.

This I know is perhaps opening up a subject rather beyond the Motion on the Paper, but it is of such importance that it might well form the subject of a special debate in your Lordships' House. The Motion before us to-day, however, is of sufficient importance in itself, and all I wish to do at this moment is to impress on the Government the need, not of abandoning the Controls, but of taking the quite simple and obvious step of setting up an authority which will lend a sympathetic ear to grievances many of which are both genuine and curable, which will regain the confidence of the commercial classes, and take every possible step, just as Germany is doing on her side, to ensure that our trade is restored as nearly as may be to its peace-time level.

4.34 p.m.


My Lords, I want to say a very few words on this Motion. I think we must all admit that control in some form or other is absolutely essential in the times through which we are passing, but the control must be efficient, it must be knowledgeable, and it must be intelligent. Those who control must know how the controlled article is produced; they must know the technicalities of production; they must know the difficulties of the producer; they must know the customs of the trade which deals with its distribution; and they must also know the principles of marketing the actual article or articles. In this connection, the present Government have been very much to the fore in producing marketing schemes, and therefore when I urge that those who control should understand the marketing, that consideration should appeal to the Government, who have done all they can to help the marketing of produce in this country.

Those who control, as I have said, must know the business, and I would refer more particularly to agricultural produce. There is no doubt that agriculture is not receiving the help it might, and as the result of unintelligent management of agricultural control, the produce is not coming forward as it otherwise would, because those who control do not understand agriculture. I presume nobody would dispute the fact that it is very desirable that the home production of food should be as great as it possibly can be, more especially in view of the German Government's treatment of ships at sea, in consequence of which we are more dependent upon our own home produce. My argument of course applies not only to agriculture but to all home production. Every trade has its own organisation. The producers, the wholesalers and the retailers are generally included in that organisation, and it seems to me that the easiest way to control the production of an article so that it shall reach everybody who wants it, is for the Government to ask the organisation which knows all about the production of that particular article to undertake the management on their behalf, instead of setting up a whole lot of Controllers who know nothing whatever about the actual article under consideration.

The announcement yesterday in another place that certain articles of food are to be rationed as from January 8 is a very good case in point. Take butter. Not long ago certain district milk marketing boards were informed that they were not to make any more butter. It sounds rather a strange statement, but if the people who get the milk from the milk producer are not allowed to make butter obviously the butter will not be forthcoming, and obviously the Ministry of Food has a very good argument to the effect, "There is no butter, therefore we must ration it." If, by order, you take away from the people who produce the butter the authority to make that butter, then obviously the butter will not be there.

I know what I am talking about because it actually happened to myself. I am the fortunate possessor of a house, the greater portion of which I have given up for the accommodation of expectant mothers from Glasgow. Expectant mothers and other mothers and babies require milk, and the mothers are better off with butter on these occasions than with margarine. A tenant of mine offered to supply the butter for the hospital. Suddenly he informed me he would not be able to go on bringing his butter because the milk marketing board, from whom he got it, were not allowed to produce the butter. He was in the habit of taking milk in to the milk marketing board—the balance, after supplying the hospital—and he brought back the butter. When that ceased, the matron of the hospital came to me and said: "Mr. So-and-so is unable any longer to supply us with butter. Can you do so?" I said: "I will do my best, but if you have a great many more mothers coming in suddenly, I shall not be able to do it." I do not know whether this is really the reason for the rationing of butter, but, if it is, I do not think it is a very good way to encourage home producers to do the very best they can to produce as much as they can for the population of this country.

I hope the Government will be able to answer this question, although I shall not be able to be here to hear the answer as I have to catch a train for Scotland. I hope the Government will be able to give some reason why organisations which are composed of producers who understand their job should not be entrusted by the Government with the management of the control which the Government desires. In other words, let the Government say to the organisations concerned: "We want you to do this, that, and the other. Will you undertake it for us?" I am sure, from my knowledge of two organisations with which I am connected, they would be only too willing to do anything they can to help the Government. May I also suggest that the management of an article is very much cheaper if it is undertaken by those who understand it rather than by those who know nothing about it at all? We were reminded the other day by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that we are spending the appalling sum of £6,000,000 per day. I cannot help thinking that some of this control is an extremely expensive item in this £6,000,000. I am not saying the Government should not control, but I am asking them to use people who actually know the job to carry out the control on their behalf. In the long run the producers, the wholesalers, and the retailers would do the job far better and far more cheaply for the Government, for the country, and therefore for the taxpayer. Not only that, but they would all be able to feel they were doing their bit in the great national emergency.

4.45 p.m.


My Lords, first of all, if I may be allowed, I should like to join in the expression of sympathy by the noble Lords opposite with the noble Earl, Lord Lucan, on his accident. I am sure we all wish him a speedy and safe recovery. While I was listening to Lord Addison I could not help being struck by the wonderfully efficacious arguments he used against what I consider are the first experiments in State Socialism in this country. We are very pleased indeed that we should have such good arguments put forward by somebody belonging to a Party which has sometimes in the past advocated such policies, although I am sure it will not do so in the future. If I may detain your Lordships for a few moments, it is rather an interesting fact that the hotelkeepers at Harrogate first heard that their hotels were going to be commandeered on the Berlin wireless. I believe very great inconvenience was caused not only to these hotels, but to the hotels all over the country. Now I read in the papers that hutments are going to be built, but it might be better, as the inconvenience has already been caused, if some of the hotels were occupied if air raids start in this country. Another peculiar instance is that of a big girls' school which was moved to another house to make way, perhaps, for some Government Department. I cannot understand why the Government Department should not have gone to the second house rather than to the first, and thus left the girls' school where it was.

The noble Marquess, Lord Aberdeen, has mentioned his experience in the matter of expectant mothers. I am not going to relate my own experiences except to say that several of the people in my house wanted wool for knitting. They sent to the shop in the village to get wool and were told there was such a shortage of wool in the country that they could not have any. At that same time I received a letter from my factor in Scotland telling me that the wool clip from 4,000 sheep in Scotland which I have been keeping was not allowed to be sold by the Wool Controller. I believe that in this respect I am not the only owner of wool who is not allowed to sell it.

Our export trade is probably the most important part of our trade which is suffering at present from control. I met a man the other day who is the export agent of a big firm of motor car manufacturers in this country. He went to Holland to try and sell cars, but found that these English cars in Holland were so difficult to sell, owing to the controls which had to be gone through, that it was impossible for him to promise delivery to the Dutch. At the same time he met the export agent of the same firm from Germany. He was also visiting Holland, and he told him he was doing wonderful business selling this same variety of car manufactured in Germany to Holland at a time when cars manufactured in this country could not be sold there.

The same thing is happening with aeroplanes A great aeroplane manufacturer told me the other day that he could, if it were possible, export aeroplanes to other countries and get in foreign currency to help us to pay for this war. He said at the same time that Germany was exporting many aeroplanes to other European countries and getting in by their export trade currencies to help to pay for the war. Now we have at the present time a very large number of unemployed—between 1,400,000 and 1,500,000—and I feel sure that the Government will devote their energies to try and give work to these unemployed, which may take time, rather than buy large quantities of, say, armaments and other materials from foreign countries, which would add to the difficulty of paying for the war.

The noble Lord, Lord Addison, mentioned the question of personal liberty. I feel that your Lordships will excuse me if I read a letter which my agent received. It arose out of a shoot which took place on some land belonging to me, and at this partridge drive the head keeper sounded his whistle. This letter is headed "Air Raid Precautions: Hunting." Of course we have heard that experts must look after control, but the clerk of this rural council apparently does not know the difference between partridge driving and hunting. The letter says: At a recent hunt held on hunting ground leased by Lord Brocket the blowing of whistles by the heaters caused the local inhabitants to consider that an air raid was in progress. I should be obliged if you would have it brought to the notice of the proper quarters—I presume the head keeper—that in future this whistling be reduced to the minimum.

4.52 p.m.


My Lords, I personally would like to associate myself, as well as all those who sit behind me on this Bench, with the very kind words in which Lord Addison referred to the accident to Lord Lucan. I can speak with special sincerity on this matter, because I came into this House as a very young member, and Lord Lucan took me under his wing. If your Lordships do not like the product I can assure you it is not his fault or the lack of consideration and of care and thoughtfulness by him on every occasion. I would like to join with all those behind me in wishing the noble Earl a very speedy recovery.

When I was asked by my noble friend who sits behind me to reply on occasions for the Home Office I knew that the briefs I would receive would very seldom have very much to do with the Home Office, and that they would consist of a number of briefs of varying lengths from a great number of other Departments. But I have never had so many briefs of such length or of such complexity as have poured in to me since this Motion was first placed on the Paper. No doubt that has been caused by the fact, as has already been noticed by my noble friend Lord Brocket, that this Motion apparently is so geographically contradictory considering the place where the noble Lord sits who put it on the Paper; but when my noble friend has spent a little longer time in this House he will know that much of our wisdom comes from poachers who have turned gamekeepers.

I know that Lord Addison speaks with unrivalled authority in this House as to Government control and how it should best be exercised. He has of course safeguarded himself very carefully. The words of the Motion are: To draw attention to the many interferences by Government Departments with the lives and business of citizens during the present war that are not necessary for the efficient prosecution of the war or for public safety. It is perfectly obvious, and indeed the noble Lord admitted it, that those words beg the whole question. There is not a single person in this House who desires any Regulation imposed on the lives of citizens during the present time that will not help the successful prosecution of the war, and therefore it all comes down in the long run to what Regulations are necessary for the safeguarding of this country and for the successful continuance of hostilities. He would be a bold man, I think, who would take it upon himself individually to declare upon these very issues which have been raised of control of supplies, of exports and imports, of lighting in our great cities and the rest, whatever may be the minor deficiencies in the organizations taken as a whole, that they are not merely necessary but essential if this war is to be carried through to a victorious conclusion as quickly as possible.

I could not help feeling, as I was listening to the speeches, that, considering that the Government have taken upon themselves responsibilities which hitherto they had not done, and have had to interfere in the private lives of citizens, it is very remarkable that practically every complaint was of an individual character; that it was one particular thing that had gone wrong; that it was a whistle that had been blown at a partridge shoot, and a number of other things of that kind. But, taken as a whole, the grievances are small, whereas the powers that the Government have taken have been very large, and no one would be more pleased than I to feel assured that at the conclusion of the war all those powers would automatically disappear. At any rate nothing has emerged in the course of this debate, I suggest, that really shows that the Government have not exercised those powers with the greatest discrimination, and have not used the greatest forethought in taking them.

Let me take the point about the blackout mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Addison. He said that had not been thought out, and the only argument he produced for that, as far as I could see, was that the deaths on the road have increased——




—have very largely increased; and that on some occasions some of the sandbags were not clearly visible to pedestrians. When you consider the immensity of the issues involved in the black-out, the possibility of the destruction not merely of the capital city of this country but of the destruction of the whole industrial network of this country; when you consider the thing that the black-out was designed to prevent, are you really going to suggest, whatever modifications might be necessary or possible in it, that it was not thought out merely because a few motorists—and I admit motorists have come out of this business extremely badly—refused to drive more carefully nowadays than they did under proper lighting conditions? Surely the argument is too trivial to upset the poise of the Government case. Another argument was that the railway stations of this country were beastly in the black-out. They are. So is war. Furthermore, it was said that it is now a dangerous business getting into or out of a train. But so is war a dangerous business. So is an air raid a dangerous business. I do urge the noble Lord to retain his sense of proportion in these matters and not to confuse personal inconvenience with a dastardly attempt to impose Socialism by a back door. That is not the Government's intention. Nor is it our intention to impose bureaucracy by a back door. No one is more alive than we are to the dangers inherent in back doors and in bureaucracy and in Socialism.

The Government are blamed because in the matter of requisitioning hotels and schools they did not give enough warning. So far as schools are concerned, the noble Lord is misinformed. The schools did have ample warning many months before of what was intended for them. So far as the warning to hotels was concerned, I admit that they were given very short notice indeed. But after all, there is not very much point in trying to evacuate Government Departments or portions of Government Departments with the strictest secrecy, if at the same time you tell every hotelkeeper in the country where you are going and what you are going to do. It really is necessary to try to keep your intentions as secret—as "hush hush," as it is now called—as possible. That being so, although the danger in fact has not eventuated, and although it is easy for those who so much hate being wise after the event to criticise the Government for having taken these precautions, I wonder what would have been our fate here on the Government Benches if we had not taken the precautions. There would not have been an Under-Secretary put up to answer criticisms. The biggest guns we have would have had to be employed if, having taken no precautions, London had been seriously bombed and the whole nervous system of our Civil Service and our Government impaired.


The noble Marquess misses the point we are making about hotels and schools. It is not that longer notice should have been given, but that the Government took over full hotels and working schools when they could have taken empty hotels and when there were empty mansions which should have been taken.


The noble Lord will forgive me if I again rather fail to follow his point. He says there were many empty hotels which could have been taken over. Does that mean hotels which happened to be empty at the period when the Government inspector went round? There are not many empty buildings suitable for conversion into offices. The criticism is made that schools were moved to another place to make room for Government Departments and it is asked why the Government Departments could not have been moved to where the schools were sent. I think I can resolve the noble Lord's perplexity in regard to that. Government Departments naturally need, first of all, the best protection against aircraft attack that can be afforded to them. That is the first essential. The second is that they should have very good telephonic communication all over the country. That is to say, they have to be near large cables. The third consideration is that Government Departments do not move as separate entities, although some of your Lordships sometimes seem to think they do. In fact they interlock and have to work together. Therefore it was essential to find areas where many Departments could more or less keep together and do their day-to-day business in close proximity. That is the reason why some areas were chosen and others rejected, and that is another reason why it was not as easy as my noble friend thinks to take over hotels just because they happened to be empty at the time.

Now I come to the question which the noble Lord raised about the Ministry of Supply. On that matter I do not think that I can say very much to help. The noble Lord must remember that there are technical diffiulties in giving contracts to small firms. It is not as easy as it sounds to hand out contracts to the first little man who comes along. Small firms have not got the specialised machine tools, they cannot in many cases make the larger armaments, and therefore it has not been easy to bring them fully into the picture. I admit that. At the same time, we have tried to meet the noble Lord's difficulty as far as we can. My right honourable friend has insisted on sub-contracting wherever possible. One large firm has no fewer than 400 sub-contractors on its list. Furthermore, it is hoped that when the area organisations of industry are set up the smaller man will be used more freely. We hope to do that very soon, and I hope that the difficulties I have mentioned—which my noble friend will probably appreciate from his experience in the last war—will explain to him why some of the incidents he has mentioned have occurred.

Finally, the noble Lord who opened this discussion dealt with the Curfew Order and raised the question whether that Regulation was necessary. Here again it is easy to be wise after the event, I suppose, but in this case it is better to be wise before it. Surely it is obvious that there are dangers, and must be dangers, in a sudden air raid accompanied by panic, possibly by fire, by looting and other things. Surely in such circumstances it is necessary to take powers in advance. Otherwise you are going to put your local authorities in a very awkward dilemma. You might have a situation arising when a local authority might have to take action which it was not legally empowered to take, and your Lordships might have to be asked to pass an Indemnity Act afterwards to protect those affected thereby. I have no doubt such an Act would be passed if the circumstances deserved it, but surely it is better to have powers available, although I agree that powers which are to be held in reserve are sometimes used on most unexpected and unfortunate occasions. Nevertheless, I feel that this is a power which should be in reserve, and I can assure the noble Lord that it will not be used unless circumstances absolutely force us to use it. He has asked for specific conditions to be laid down as to how it should be used. I can only say that I will report the suggestion to my right honourable friend in another place, that it might be possible to confine still more strictly the possible exercise of curfew; but as a general power I believe firmly that it is essential.

So much for the opener's speech. I come to the noble Lord, Lord Rea, who seemed to have a dislike of almost everything that this Government have done in the economic sphere for a considerable time. I was glad that he paid a tribute to the civil servants who have prepared these schemes in the past so completely, which on the whole already have worked extremely well. I am not pretending for a moment that all these schemes are working perfectly, or that there have not been delays and even muddles during the last two months; but, taking by and large the great change that has come over the economic face of the country through these various Controls, I suggest that the schemes must have been remarkably well thought out; and that is not so remarkable as it may appear, because they were thought out in close consultation with the business men of this country. The Controllers whom Lord Rea regards with such distrust and doubt are, in fact, if you analyse them—the noble Lord asked for a list, and I have a complete list here—the leading men in each individual industry which they control. People have said that the Controllers are men who have too large a stake in the business. That is one argument; it is not a good argument. Surely it is better to have someone who knows a great deal about a business than to put in as Controller a civil servant who knows nothing about it whatsoever.


Did I understand the noble Marquess to say that he had the list of the Controls, the Controllers and the members of the staff for which I asked? If so, may we have it published?


I have not got a list of staff; I did not say I had, but I said I had a list of Controllers which has been supplied to me. I imagine it to be a full one; it is quite long.


Can it be published?


I see no reason myself why it should not be, but the noble Lord will understand that I should like a little notice of that question. Perhaps we could consider that. I must say I cannot imagine why it should not be published.


Will the noble Lord consider publishing the list not only of the Controls and the Controllers, but also of the numbers concerned?


My Lords, I have just heard a thing that I should have known, and so should my noble friend; that this list has already been in the Commons OFFICIAL REPORT.


No; may I interrupt the noble Marquess? The list in the OFFICIAL REPORT was a list of Controllers given by the Minister of Supply. As far as his Department was concerned it is complete, but it does not relate to ever so many more Controllers in other Departments.


But my noble friend Lord Rea was talking entirely about the Ministry of Supply.


No, indeed; I was talking about all the Controllers. Many of the Controllers of whom we have to complain most severely are not under the Ministry of Supply. Imports and exports have nothing to do with the Ministry of Supply, nor have the others with whom we are chiefly concerned.


Many of them are under the Board of Trade.


Then I must withdraw, and apologise for saying I had a complete list, because I have not.


Then would the noble Marquess inquire and consider, and if possible let us have an answer and the list for which I ask?


I will certainly make the inquiries and discover whether that information may be made available. As for this export and import control of which, again, the noble Lord complained, I am happy to say that it is improving already. After the preliminary dislocation, which we must have expected anyway, it is getting back perhaps not quite to normal, but it is greatly improving. I believe that to be due to the fact that there is not this lack of confidence of the commercial classes, to which Lord Rea referred on several occasions, in the Government's control policy. I do not believe that that lack of confidence exists at all. On the contrary, all the evidence seems to be that the Government have consulted them on every possible occasion. The Government have in fact been criticised for taking their advice and their criticism too much to heart. I do not see any sign at all that the commercial classes of this country, as a whole, lack confidence either in the Controllers or in the system of control.

Finally, so far as my noble friend is concerned, he did not seem to be aware, when he complained that there was lack of cohesion in all these matters, particularly between exporters and control of exports, that a special section of the Department of Overseas Trade has been set up to enable exporters to get together as far as they can through one channel and to get advice and information as to the various problems with which the war has faced them. If the industrialists would play their part, on the other hand, and get together as much as they can in their chambers of commerce and the like, then I see no reason at all to anticipate any difficulty in working the new system successfully.

I think that covers the points raised by Lord Rea. As far as my noble friend Lord Aberdeen is concerned, and the control of agriculture, I confess I have no answer immediately to give him; but again I would draw your Lordships' attention to the fact that it is an individual case; it is not a question of a great principle being involved. There may have been a bit of stupidity outside Glasgow—there often has been in the past—but that does not invalidate the main principle of the system of butter control and agricultural control. He referred to the great expense of these control schemes. Well, I am perfectly certain that if we were to cast up a balance-sheet as to what money we have saved by these schemes and the cost of working them, he would be quite astonished at the amount we have saved. The Daily Herald the other day estimated the saving in non-ferrous metals alone by the Control at £7,000,000 a year on prewar buying—which of course in itself is fantastic, because our buying is now very much greater. If all the Controllers can do as well, I think your Lordships will agree that it would pay for a good many clerks and for a good many salaries.

I have tried as best I can to cover this very wide ground. I know perfectly well that this system has brought discomfort to many people, has upset business on occasion, and has been irritating to the public at large. All I will say is that, taking the picture as a whole, the system has worked rather well when it has been cutting its baby teeth. We can honestly hope that it is going to work really well now that we have had a little experience of it. We must really remember that war is not a pleasant thing, that we do have restrictions, and that we do have to make the best of them. As our Aryan poet said, "To win a war you have got to be not merely bloody and bold but also resolute"—to bear the unpleasant little inconveniences which often upset people more than the greater sorrows which war brings.

5.20 p.m.


My Lords, I think there has been an over-emphasis on the question of the black-out. We who live in the country have been used to walking about in a black-out; it means another shilling on the rates when you have street lights. It is a simple matter to take a torch, although it is an inconvenience. What remedies have we for this black-out? We might increase the street lighting. That would help the pedestrians, but could it be increased to the extent of making it really worth while without invalidating the whole purpose of the black-out? Again, to consider the case of the motorists, those of you who are motorists will know that it is a great help not to have any lights near the road. It is easier to see without lights, except those on obstructions in the road, which are helpful. If you are going to put up street lights all round, you will make it more difficult for the motorists and will therefore be liable to cause more accidents. Again, taking the case of a town, in a town many motorists use sidelights only, and from the point of view of the pedestrians it is much easier to see sidelights if there is not street lighting round about.

To refer to another point, in this Defence Act—I am not quite certain what the correct term for it is—it seems to me that one can draw a parallel with the case of various sentences possible under the law. You will find that for quite a trivial offence a heavy sentence can be given. In fact it is not given, but it is possible to give it; that is left to the discretion of the Judge. I remember that when I was a small boy, passing along a street, I put tar on a pillar box and covered up the lock. Each day I came back and found that it had been taken off, so I did it again two of three times. Ultimately I saw a notice to the effect that I was liable to two months' imprisonment. That seems to me a very large sentence for a trivial offence. So it seems to me that giving the Army powers to enforce that Act is giving them powers which they are never lively to use, but that it is useful for them to have an unspecified power or a blank cheque.

5.23 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure we all welcome the intervention of the noble Viscount who has just spoken. Like him, I am used to country lanes and have found my way about them many hundreds of times in the dark. For all that, I am somewhat unrepentant. But I will not trouble your Lordships with a long speech. I was a little confused, I confess, as to what the noble Marquess said about our front-door Socialism or backdoor bureaucracy. It was rather a mixture; but still, being an incurable optimist myself, I live in hope that the noble Lord will in time come to understand what we Socialists really do want. It is not control of which I am complaining; it is not the necessity for control that I was questioning at all; it is the lack of good sense and of a sense of proportion and of good management in administration to which I was calling the attention of the House.

I think we have had in that respect a very useful debate. It is not trivial and it is not small. I felt a little sad when I heard the noble Marquess use those terms, because it suggests to my mind that the Government do not quite appreciate the extent of the unnecessary interference that there has been, and is, with the lives and industries of the people—widespread and unnecessary interference, in many respects, in my opinion. I was sorry to hear the noble Marquess belittle it. But I hope that this debate will have had the result of inducing him and his colleagues to give more thought to this side of the question. I believe the management of some of these Controls is a serious handicap on the industrial and trade life of the country, unnecessarily imposed, and for that reason one felt justified in calling attention to it. The noble Marquess tried to find comfort, in reply to what I said about the Ministry of Supply, by saying that these small firms could get a large amount of sub-contracting. That is one's very grievance. That is not the way to use them. The way to use them is, I think, the way which I suggested in my speech: have your local organisation competent to supply them with drawings and all the rest of it, and find out what their machinery is and what it can do. I suggest that that is not being done.

May I finally refer him to a speech of one of his colleagues on the subject of the curfew to which I drew your Lordships attention? I am not quite sure what the order is about reading extracts from the proceedings in another place, but it seems to be more noteworthy in the breach rather than in the observance, and so I will pursue precedent. This is what the noble Lord's colleague said about this Curfew Order: The question of omitting it and introducing it if circumstances should arise in which it might be thought necessary was duly considered, but it was thought by those responsible"— not "by ourselves," your Lordships will notice— for the drafting of the regulations better that it should be included so that the House might have an opportunity of criticising it"— Not because it was good, not because it was required, but so that the House might have an opportunity of criticising it. I do not wish to offer any very spirited criticism of it. I confess that I should not shed tears if it dropped out … That is the Home Secretary. I think it is an adequate reply. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

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