§ Debate resumed (according to Order) on the Motion moved yesterday by Lord 204 Addison—namely, to resolve, That this House welcomes the appointment of a Minister of Reconstruction with War Cabinet rank, and the announcement of the Prime Minister that preparations are being made to secure work, food and homes for the people after the war, and in view of the nature of some of the problems involved, urges the importance of the early announcement of decisions on the matters of policy affected, and the presentation of such plans and legislation as may be necessary to give effect to them without avoidable delay at the termination of hostilities.
§ LORD LATHAM
My Lords, at the risk of adding to the bouquets which the noble Lord (Lord Woolton) has both enjoyed and endured during the past few weeks, I should like to express my felicitations and congratulations to him on his assumption of this great and arduous office. In the dangerous trade of politics it sometimes happens that the most pleasant occasion in taking office is when you take it. In the passage of time felicitations give place to criticisms. However, Lord Wool-ton comes to this responsible task fortified with a great reputation deservedly won for successful administration in a great Department. We hope—I am sure the country hopes—that success will attend him in his new sphere. If we from these Benches have occasion to offer, as no doubt we shall, any criticisms of Lord Woolton, I am sure he will understand that it is from no desire to embarrass him, but to encourage and fortify him in dealing with the many complex problems which will confront him and his colleagues.
Having said that, I propose to indulge in some criticism. I do not think that the solution of the problems of reconstruction will be materially assisted if we are to be mealy-mouthed in the expression of our views. As I listened to Lord Woolton's speech yesterday I confess to a sense of disappointment, and I must say, having had an opportunity of reading it in the Official Report this morning, that that disappointment is in no sense allayed or diminished. It seems to me that his speech adds very little, if anything, to what has already been said by other Ministers with regard to the Government's plans for reconstruction. Notably it adds very little to the recent speech in another place by the Minister Without Portfolio. If it contains any- 205 thing which those speeches did not, it is a rather disturbing indication that the noble Lord approaches the problems of reconstruction from the point of view of a contractionist economy. He seems to be doubtful whether the proper policy is that of an expansionist national economy. He referred to the necessity for maintaining the solvency of our national finance. No one will dispute that, but there is room for doubt whether national solvency can really be secured by the adoption and pursuit of a contractionist, deflationary economic policy. Most of us remember the sad consequences of "making the pound look the dollar in the face" when the gold standard was resumed We also still have vivid memories of what happened in the adoption and pursuit of that policy in 1931, and it is much to be hoped that the Government are looking at these problems from the point of view of an expansionist and not a contractionist national economy.
The noble Lord referred to the increased weight of the internal debt. We may regret that, but from the point of view of the nation as a whole the increase of the national debt internally held adds no burden. It may alter the relative economic and financial position as between individuals, but it does not necessarily add to the indebtedness of the nation as a whole. It is correct that the interest on the debt has to be provided, but there again it is an exchange between persons rather than a loss from the nation. As regards the external debt, no one can say what that will be at the end of the war. We are still uncertain as to the final set dement of Lease-Lend, but it remains the case (does it not?) that what ever increase the external debt may undergo, payment must be through the exchange of goods. It is much to be hoped that the Government will not re-enter on the paths of contractionist economy, but will seek to meet the difficulties of the future by an expansionist economic policy. It is the case, of course, that there has been a serious reduction in our overseas investments which will call for an increase of exports. Everyone will agree that the resumption and expansion of our export trade is very important and, having regard to the enormous demand there will be in the world for capital goods of the character and type 206 which we are so well fitted to make, there should not, at all events in the years immediately following the cessation of hostilities, be any great difficulty in expanding our export trade.
It is a tragic commentary that it is only in time of war that we can employ the whole of our economic facilities, and that it is only for the purpose of destruction, rather than of construction, that we can solve the problem of unemployment and, indeed, be under the necessity of pressing into employment millions of people not formerly engaged in any gainful occupation. I was curious to notice Lord Woolton's reference to the reduction in our shipping. Serious as that may have been it is unlikely, I apprehend, that we shall finish up the war with fewer ships than we had at the commencement; certainly there should be more. We all remember that the problem of the shipbuilding industry in peace-time was not that there were too few ships but that there were too many, that ships were taken out of commission and shipbuilding yards were closed down, in the course of which we had the tragedy of Jarrow.
Now the Minister of Production, it seems to me, approached this problem in a more encouraging way in his speech in another place on November 30, when he said that the limitation in the replacement of capital goods destroyed or which had become obsolete might depend upon the measure of savings. I agree, and that measure is ultimately determined by the measure of our national income. What we must do is to expand that national income, as we have done under the necessities of war, so that there can be a proper standard of living and. that there is available an appropriate margin of savings for the replacement of the capital equipment and social assets of this country. Certainly savings cannot be expanded by the adoption of a contractionist economy. I hope, therefore, that we have seen the last of tariffs, quotas and, certainly, of that most sinister method of imposing restraints on trade, the Import Duties Advisory Committee, which seems to me to contain and to exhibit all the worst features of protection. What we should seek to achieve is greater freedom of international trade, and that must be based, I submit, upon appropriate arrangements being made as to the monetary structure which will function 207 after the conclusion of hostilities. I very much hope that out of the long and difficult conversations and consultations which are taking place between ourselves and the United States, and I hope Russia, there will be evolved a monetary technique which is appropriate to conditions as they will exist after the war and is not too much tied to the conditions which existed in the nineteenth century.
The noble Lord went on to state, I will not say with any satisfaction, that this country would be poor in the years following the war. I do not know whether we have all become infected because that great world elder statesman, Field Marshal Smuts, said we should be poor, but even he would not claim economic infallibility. I see no reason why we should commence the consideration of these economic problems from the assumption that we shall be poor. By what do we test, as a nation and indeed as a comity of nations, wealth or poverty? Surely the ultimate test must be the capacity to produce, and none of us can have any doubt that after this war, as a result of the impulse towards scientific invention and the improvement of technique, we shall have a far greater capacity to produce than we had when the war started. Indeed, it may be that increased capacity to produce will be the trouble, as it was after the last war. We finished the last war with so much industrial capacity that we were never able to employ it fully until this war broke out. Therefore I submit that there is no occasion to be unduly pessimistic that we shall enter upon the struggle of peace an impoverished nation. We shall be if we pursue a policy of deflation. We shall if we put into cold storage and out of use large sections of our economic structure as was done during the years between the two wars. Our business will be to harness that increased productivity, which represents the real wealth of the country, and harness it to proper purposes and to proper aims.
The noble Lord went on to say what is true, even if trite, that we must work to live. That is precisely the anxiety behind the Motion moved by my noble friend Lord Addison. We want to see people being permitted to work to live. The trouble between the two wars was that millions of them were forbidden to work and were kept away from the means 208 of production. At one time we had in this country three million unemployed all anxious to work but denied the opportunity, and, cynically enough, needing the very things which could have been produced if the economic scheme of things had been so arranged that they could have been employed. So we on these Benches do not approach this question with any lack of appreciation of the need for work. We are anxious, as I am sure every one in your Lordships' House is anxious, that the whole of the available working population of this country shall have an opportunity of working and of adding to the nation's wealth and the nation's pool of goods, whether consumable or capital. It seems to me that the noble Lord—it may be without intention—in his speech yesterday was seeking, I will not say to write off, but to write down the legitimate expectation of the people of this country that, when the war is over, we are not going back to the pre-war state of affairs patched up here and patched up there. The people of this country expect, I will not say a brave new world but certainly a world from which chronic unemployment shall have been banished. They expect a world in which they will be able to live in a decent dwelling and they expect a world in which they will be sure, at all events, of adequate and nutritious food. It is not to encourage excessive hopes merely to state that those are the desires of the people and that it is the business of the Government to satisfy them.
The noble Lord made what I thought was a rather contemptuous reference to the slogan of "Homes fit for heroes," used to cover such a multitude of sins immediately after the conclusion of the last war. But there was nothing wrong with that slogan. What was wrong was the failure to implement it.
§ LORD LATHAM
I am coming to the implementation of "Food, work and homes" in a moment. In essence the Prime Minister's slogan of "Food, work and homes" is not different from "Homes fit for heroes." It is our concern that the expectation shall, on this occasion, be fulfilled and it is because of that that this 209 Motion has been submitted for your Lordships' consideration. I was glad to hear the Minister state that his Ministry would not be a kind of super-Ministry. I think that would be fatal. The responsibility in their respective spheres must remain with the individual Departments and with the individual Ministers. I gather that the purpose of the new Ministry will be to co-ordinate and I hope also to initiate new plans in the various spheres of national activity, and to discharge the difficult duty of being the Ministry-in-Chief for prodding—prodding the other Departments not only to get on with the plans they have but to think ahead of the problems which will face them later on. The Ministry should therefore be dynamic, a Ministry which I hope may be respected, and indeed in some respects perhaps feared, by any Departments inclined to be slothful in dealing with the problems of reconstruction.
What we all hope, and I am sure the Minister himself will share the hope, is that his appointment will not be merely that, instead of there having been one Minister dealing with the co-ordination of planning, there will now be two. I do not know whether he is conscious of the fact that so far as physical planning is concerned he is the eighth Minister within three years who has been concerned with it. We hope he may be able to retrieve the failures of the previous seven and that we may now see some really constructive work. There is one aspect in which the Minister can, I think, score an immediate success. It is in the direction of planning the speeches of Government spokesmen on this matter. They have two qualities. The first is that they make declarations which are perfect in their imprecision, and the second that they are without limits of resource in finding excuses for delay. To adjust a phrase of Burke, it seems that members of the Government have resolved to die in the last dyke of procrastination. It is to be hoped that any future speeches made by Government spokesmen will, at all events, possess the elementary quality of being in agreement the one with the other.
Now I come to the question of physical planning. The noble Lord said yesterday that we must settle land policy without delay, but he did not indicate how it was proposed to settle it. He did not, as far as I can discern from his speech, indicate 210 what are the actual proposals intended to be made in the legislation promised for after Christmas. There is a lamentable want of clarity in the various statements which have been made on this matter by various Ministers. The Minister of Production, in another place on November 30, said he divided the Uthwatt Committee's recommendations into two parts. As I read it, the first part was that dealing with reconstruction areas, and the second part was that dealing with those two fundamental recommendations, the acquisition of development rights and the periodic levy. But there is much more in the Uthwatt Report than those two parts. Merely to deal with the proposals of the Uthwatt Committee about reconstruction areas will still leave almost insurmountable obstacles against planning and against housing. I hope the noble Lord will be able to tell your Lordships' House, and through it the country, what are the proposals to be embodied in this projected legislation.
In the gracious Speech there is a reference to legislation to deal with reconstruction areas. There is nothing about the 1939 ceiling, notwithstanding the fact that the principle was accepted over two and a half years ago and its acceptance was confirmed by the Minister Without Portfolio in another place two days ago. Are we to have proposals dealing with the 1939 ceiling in this suggested legislation, or are we expected to be content with proposals dealing only with reconstruction areas? As I have already said, if that be the case then planning and housing will be seriously delayed, because there are many sites which local authorities will need to acquire, sites in connexion with the projection of a new road or the enlargement of an existing one, sites for relatively small housing estates and sites for new schools, none of which sites may be within what will be defined in legislation as being a reconstruction area. And if local authorities are left, with only their existing powers, to acquire those sites, which in total will make up a large part of planning and of housing, then they will be unable properly to discharge their duties. I therefore, with respect, press the Minister to tell us what are the proposals, what are the aspects of legislative amendment needed for effective planning and housing, which it is contemplated will be in the new Bill.
211 That brings me to the question of housing, the most acute question facing this country. The conditions, as I have said before, in certain parts of this country are just appalling, and we may well hesitate to contemplate what will be the attiture of mind of those returning from the Forces if they find that when they come back there is no decent place for them to live in. I gave notice to the noble Lord, through the usual channels, that I proposed to ask certain questions with regard to the elements of housing. The first question I wish to ask is, what are the Government's proposals in respect of the control of the user of building materials? It is essential that the limited supply of building materials which will be available after the war should be used for the most urgent social requirements, and that we should not run the risk of materials and labour being employed to erect buildings which, however desirable, are not essential, so that a position may be created wherein there are neither materials nor labour for the building of houses. It would be a great encouragement to housing authorities to know what the steps are that are proposed to be taken to ensure not only that there is a maximum supply of building materials available but that they will be directed into the most desirable social user.
I do not know whether the Minister of Works is able to say anything in this debate with regard to new methods, new designs or new materials. I am unaware whether the Committee presided over by my noble friend Lord Dudley has yet reported. Much is being talked about prefabrication. That is a misnomer, if I may use the phrase. Most building materials are prefabricated before they get to the site. A more correct description of the process, adopted in America, is pre-assembly. What they do, as I understand, is to assemble sections of a dwelling and the assembled sections are sent down to the site. There may be a saving of labour and/or material in that process, but I think it would be unfortunate if we rushed into the adoption of that method of building without being quite satisfied that it is suitable to our climate, suitable to the traditions of building and to the traditions of the people who will have to live in those buildings. I do not wish to frown on any new methods which would assist in the rapid provision of 212 housing accommodation, but some of us witnessed some experiments which were made after the last war, and we know that some of them were not too encouraging. I think that we should be abundantly sure that this pre-assembly method is one which will prove to be suitable, on a long-term view, for housing in this country.
I would like to say a few words about the labour position. We are told that the policy contemplated by the Government will need a labour corps of 1,250,000 persons, which will amount to a very substantial expansion of the building and associated labour which was available before the war. My noble friend Lord Portal will be the first to admit that the mere availability of 1,250,000 building operatives would not solve the labour problem. There is a good deal of training to be done; not only training of operatives but training of those under whose guidance and supervision the operatives will be employed. It will also, of course, be necessary, to expand proportionately the complement of technical and other types of labour which will be essential if building is not to be delayed unduly. I would like here to enter a strong plea for the most urgent consideration by the Government of the release of technical staff which is necessary for local authorities, and indeed for private builders, if the plans are to be in readiness for that flying start to which the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, referred yesterday.
§ LORD LATHAM
From the Forces or from other employment in this country, and I do not exclude the release from some of the Ministries of some of the people who have gone from local authorities and private concerns to assist those Ministries.
§ LORD LATHAM
The need for training the technical staff, not only of the supervisory grades but skilled foremen, is as important almost as the provision of additional operatives, because the one will be idle without the presence, supervision and guidance of the other. Now nothing was said by the noble Lord, the Minister of Reconstruction, yesterday 213 about the financial aspects of planning or of housing. It is quite clear that local authorities will not, themselves, be able to shoulder the burden of extensive reconstruction and replanning, and that some appropriate and adequate assistance must be forthcoming. A few days ago I was at a deputation when a representative from a city which has been pretty badly punished by the enemy said: "Well, we have no plan and we have no money, and until we are assured as to the money we do not think there is much utility in proceeding with a plan." That is an actual statement of the position and local authorities are anxious to have some indication from the Government as to what the financial arrangements between them will be in connexion with planning.
As regards housing the finance of that, of course, will depend upon the cost of the houses. At the present time, roughly speaking, the deficiency on local government housing projects is borne as to two parts by the Exchequer and as to the other part by the local authority. By and large that has worked not unfairly and not unsatisfactorily; but if the cost of a cottage is to go up—as we are warned it will and will remain up for five years— from £350 to £1,000, then the one part of the additional deficiency which will result from that increase will be in most cases beyond the financial resources of the local authorities. They are all anxious, especially, if I may say so with all respect, the smaller local authorities, as to what is to be the subsidy arrangement between them and the Exchequer in connexion with the provision of new housing.
The Minister referred yesterday to demobilization and said that he had knowledge of the plans but could not disclose them, and I make no objection to that. But there is a general assumption that the basis of demobilization on this occasion will be "first in, first out." I think, generally speaking, that policy will meet with the approval of the public and of the Forces. There was, of course, much abuse of the release of key-men alter the last war, an abuse which led to considerable resentment among those for whom it did not work out satisfactorily; but, even so, I do hope that Government will not exclude consideration of a controlled prior release of certain sections of technical and other staff that may be 214 necessary, not only on local government work but on the not less important work of changing over industry from war-time production to peace-time activity.
The noble Lord said yesterday that in many factories almost a complete reinstatement will be necessary. The lines that exist for the production of, say, motor cars or motor engines, have been taken up, the shops have been laid out to make them suitable for the manufacture of entirely different objects and articles, and until those lines are put back, until the machines are put into position, you will not need the men and women to operate them, and those men and women, unless arrangements are made, will inevitably be unemployed and on the streets. I think the noble Lord would agree that that is a very important aspect of the change back from war-time production to normal production, and that industrialists should be able now to make their plans and have the plans ready in order to shorten as far as possible that lag between the cessation or the diminution of war-time production and the resumption of peace-time production, because during that lag I can see no alternative to the operative element in labour being unemployed. It may well be that the enforced idleness, as my noble friend Lord Strabolgi reminds me, could be more generously and more attractively termed a holiday, but nevertheless they will not be able to work in the machine shops or the factories.
I would like to say that we shall await with considerable interest the legislation which has been promised for early after Christmas. I noticed that the noble Lord used the words "very early" in connexion with projected legislation. Well, we have been told that we were to have early legislation for nearly two years and a half. I hope the interposition of the word "very" means that we are going to have it, and that we shall not be asked—as we have up to the present— to live upon a series of declarations by Ministers that this principle is accepted and the other principle is accepted, while there is no embodiment of its acceptance in legislation. Local authorities and private enterprise cannot themselves get on with the problems of reconstruction unless the powers which the local authorities are to exercise and under which private building will be regulated are 215 embodied at the earliest possible moment in legislation.
§ LORD HORDER
My Lords, I wish to join with noble Lords who spoke yesterday and the noble Lord who has preceded me in congratulating the Minister of Reconstruction on the confidence which the Prime Minister has reposed in him, knowing, as surely we all do, that that confidence reflects the confidence of the country. I am not going to dilute my congratulations by references to possible disasters: I have sufficient confidence to believe that the Minister of Reconstruction can face possible disasters in the economic field with as much success as he has faced possible disasters in the field of the country's nutrition—and with equal success. At one moment I was almost tempted to believe that the noble Lord, Lord Latham, would not be altogether disappointed if Lord Woolton succeeded in this great office. I have had exceptional opportunities, of course, having been privileged to advise the Minister of Food during the last four years, and may I make a personal reference and say how much I am indebted to the noble Lord for his unfailing patience and courtesy? He always listened to me so patiently that I thought he was going to take my advice, and he was so forbearing that it was quite easy to forgive him when he did not.
My noble friend Lord Addison, of course, could not give us the full ambit of those matters which will inevitably come into the province of the Ministry over which Lord Woolton presides, but "Food, work and homes," after all, give us the basic foundation of health, upon which matter, for a few moments only, I want to crave your Lord-ships indulgence. Specifically the question of health services was not mentioned, but the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, yesterday did introduce into his short speech a reference to health services. It might be appropriate at this moment to remind the Government that we are back at scratch in this matter of reconstructing the health services. We have been promised a White Paper on the health services for some considerable time, and it would be very encouraging if we could be told that, soon not late, that White Paper will be forthcoming. I said that we are back at scratch. The first start was not 216 too happy. The fact that a number of matters were put into the discard may be taken as a sign that even the Government representative in that matter did not consider that the start had been too good. I understand from Lord Woolton's speech yesterday that in the matter of health services we have to look, not to the Ministry of Reconstruction primarily, but to the Ministry of Health. May I say, in respect of the new Minister of Health, that I feel sure I speak for my profession in welcoming him and offering him the utmost help we can possibly give him in his difficult work? We all remember that he has a very fine record for work during unusual and sudden stress in the national emergency, and that work gives promise that we shall, in the new Minister of Health, be dealing with a man of action, not only with a man of words.
On this question of the reorganization of the health services, I should like to deal with what I believe to be the erroneous notion in certain quarters with regard to the attitude of doctors towards Assumption B of the Beveridge Report. Your Lordships will remember that that Assumption, in effect, assumes that all the preventive and curative knowledge and skill of medicine shall be available to every citizen. I speak for no official body of my profession, but I feel certain that, as a profession, we are very anxious to assist in implementing that Assumption. The Assumption has already received, in principle, the Government's support. In regard to the new approach I would make one or two suggestions, but before doing so let me say that I too, like Lord Latham, was a little surprised and slightly disappointed when we were told that the new Minister of Reconstruction would not initiate policy. I should like to feel that, even if he does not initiate policy, at least he considers himself free to suggest policy.
§ LORD HORDER
To suggest policy in regard to this matter of reorganizing the medical services might be a great help, and then possibly to keep a watchful and sympathetic eye on the conversations, as they are called, which go on between the Government representatives and the bodies representative of the profession and the voluntary hospitals.
§ LORD WOOLTON
I should not like my noble friend to misunderstand what I said, 217 which was that the primary responsibility rested with the Departments for formulating plans. The emphasis was on the word "primary."
§ LORD HORDER
I am very glad. All the same, if my memory does not deceive me, the Minister did use the words, "not initiate." However, I am satisfied that in matters nearest my own heart there will be conference, suggestion—I shall not use the word "guidance"—in regard to the reorganization of the medical services; some consideration as to how the conversations shall take place, how the stage shall be set, and possibly beginning not with the doctors; not marching the doctors up the hill and marching thorn down again, and then pausing as if to say, "I have made a beginning in reorganizing the health services." If I may make my own suggestion, to begin with the machine rather than with the man who drives the machine might next time be more fruitful of results. Now, as regards the machine, we have the voluntary hospitals, a large body of highly efficient, well-administered institutions. Modern medicine is teamwork as we now know it. Team-work is based on hospitals not on individuals, and therefore, until there is a proper linking, extending from the domiciliary medical service up to and including the large teaching and research centre based on a university, we shall continue to absorb a large part of the doctor's time, especially the country doctor's time, in making the necessary contact to get what he knows his patient requires. Until the machine is improved by regionalizing hospitals, which we have almost got tired of advocating, we can never make the body of knowledge and skill in medicine available to the citizens.
Then there is the insurance scheme. We have been pressing for years that the dependants of the workers should be included in the national insurance scheme. I believe I am right in saying that it has been worked out actuarily to mean something like £9,000,000 or £10,000,000 per annum. The amount of anxiety which the worker suffers because he has no similar feeling of security as to the treatment of his dependants when he himself is ill, or when he is not ill, would be relieved at once if the same facilities were given to the dependants as to the workers. Health centres, preventive medicine, positive health—that is becoming a cliché, 218 but we are doing nothing about positive health. It would not be very difficult to duplicate and triplicate—in fact to do one hundred times over—what was done at Peckham ten years ago with great success. Peckham, the pioneer health centre, has gone into cold storage, unfortunately, but it should not be a parochial effort, it should be a national effort. Regional hospitals, setting up centres for dealing with positive health, expanding the national insurance scheme to include the dependants through larger contributions— by these means the reorganization of medical services could be obtained more satisfactorily, more quickly, and with less bitterness of heart than by saying to the doctor, "We wish you to be a civil servant."
I will not digress upon that. I do not think it is in the public interest to convert the medical profession into a Civil Service, and I think by now the public shares that feeling. But if you are going to hand over the voluntary hospitals to local authorities and if you are going to hand over the doctors to local authorities, should not something be done at first to prepare the local authorities for exercising those new powers and availing themselves of those new opportunities? I have already reminded your Lordships of the efficiency and the excellent administration of the large voluntary hospitals. Was it to be wondered at that quite early in one of the conversations, so I am given to understand, there was a feeling that a proper spirit of partnership was not being exercised between those who stood for the local authorities and those who stood for the fortunes and for the efficiency of the voluntary hospitals, and so the conversations broke down? Finally, we are back at scratch. There is a great opportunity, therefore, to the new Minister of Health with, may I say, the sympathetic support, suggestions, and even guidance of the Minister of Reconstruction, to do something about this very desirable matter.
§ LORD ELTON
My Lords, may I also begin by adding my humble felicitations to those which have already been offered to the new Minister of Reconstruction who, I suppose, with Generals Montgomery and Alexander, is one of the three great discoveries of the war. Our felicitations are necessarily tempered with a certain regret at seeing the intimate good genius of the breakfast table transferred to the doubt- 219 less more sublime but nevertheless remote and mist-girt mountain top, from which he is to survey a still somewhat nebulous futurity. I feel sure that if in their journey through the wilderness the children of Israel had possessed such an efficient quartermaster as Lord Woolton they would have felt a certain resentment on seeing him transferred to a permanent seat on Mount Pisgah, for ever straining his eyes towards the Promised Land. May I also say how much I welcome the new title (if I am not mistaken in so thinking it) of the Minister's post? The word "reconstruction" is a word which we have not heard very much lately, and it is a word which, it seems to me, is very greatly preferable to the word "planning," for I am convinced that we shall never plan the future rightly unless we recognize that the first stages of our planning have necessarily to be a process of reconstruction.
Perhaps I can illustrate what I am trying to say most effectively by what may at first sight appear a paradox. The day before yesterday a pamphlet was placed in my hands. It is the work of a young officer recently promoted from the ranks in the Middle East. I have seen a good deal before this of this young man's work, and I think that perhaps more than any other living writer he possesses the faculty of presenting in lucid and moving form the sentiments and opinions and even the endearing characteristics of the ordinary man—his simplicity, his shrewdness, his obstinacy, the deep vein of sentiment in his make-up, and his impatience with any sort of hypocrisy or affectation. This pamphlet is called The Good Years to Come and is in fact a seven-thousand-word treatise on the New World as seen from Libya. In his pamphlet, which is the outcome of countless discussions between the author and his fellow-soldiers, both there and at home, he remarks that it appears to him and his friends to be a mere piece of journalistic hypocrisy to speak, as our Press so often does, as if we had gone to war "for a new world." We went to war in September, 1939, he says, because we had a treaty obligation to Poland. In 1940 we virtually went to war again because something infinitely precious to us was in deadly peril.We went soberly and grimly to war,220 he says—to fight for our hearthstones, the only things that really matter much in the lives of men. … Not for a dreamy mirage of future good did we fight, but for the good we knew … for our own armchair by our own fireside on a winter's evening, and our son doing his homework at the dining-room table. For brisk cold Saturday afternoons at football matches and then the cinema in the evening with the wife.Of course that is a paradox, and one to which the noble Lord, Lord Latham, would justly object. God forbid we should be fighting primarily for football matches, or even for homework.
Nevertheless, those words, my Lords, are based, as everyone of your Lordships is aware, in his heart, upon a profound truth. We are fighting first and foremost for certain ancient and priceless and largely indefinable qualities in the life of these islands, and unless and until those qualities are preserved or, as in some cases is necessary, restored, then there can be no true reconstruction, still less any effective planning of a remoter future. That is the first and fundamental truth, I think, of which that young man and his friends were conscious, and which finds its way too seldom into much that is said and written about the future in the Press.
The second great lacuna of which I think many of us are uneasily conscious —occasionally in listening to debates in your Lordships' House, and much more often in hearing or reading what is said outside it—is perhaps an even more fundamental omission. Towards what are we planning? For to say we are planning for a better Britain may mean everything or nothing. What is the compass-bearing of our journey? We know that in the great totalitarian examples, in Russia, Germany and Japan, they have a simple system of reference. Planning for them has long meant to put the Army first. Well, we trust that after the war we shall not be having to plan for another war. But for what are we planning? Too often it seems that the planner is content to leave the city towards which he is moving—like the city which Mr. J. B. Priestley lately so prudently left off stage —veiled in a decent obscurity.
Even more frequently, and even more unfortunately, it becomes apparent that the goal of the planner is a higher degree of material comfort, a higher standard of 221 living, that he will be content provided that we can increase our average income, swell the total of imports and exports, or in one way or another increase our material comfort. Yet is it not abundantly plain that it was precisely the pursuit first and foremost of material comfort precisely the illusion that the main end of politics is a higher standard of living, which brought us to catastrophe in the past? And does not all history, and the teaching of wise men from that first and greatest of planners, Plato, onwards go to prove that in the final analysis the true object of planning is not material comfort, not economic security, not a higher standard of living, but Welfare—in which all those material advantages are an indispensable element, but nevertheless only an element? That is the second great blindness to which I have referred.
Now I come—for these are only abstractions—to one concrete example of the two great lacunae of which I think many of us are conscious in this discussion. By common consent the family is the basis not only of our civilization but of that of every Christian state. The family, as we know, has been the first and perhaps the most tragic casualty of the war. At the very outset hundreds and thousands of evacuations from the great industrial areas whisked the children away out of all direct contact with, or control by, their parents—and incidentally proved that over a large area family life had already broken down even before the onset of war. Since then father has been called into the Forces, mother has been called into the factory, the children are parked in crèches, boarded out with strangers or are merely running wild in the black-out. Divorce flourishes. Bigamy is almost a national industry. And your Lordships will have come across the appalling statistics of the spread of venereal disease among girls of under sixteen. Juvenile delinquency has risen during the war from three or four per thousand to eight or nine per thousand. Is it not mere wishful self-deception to talk about a better Britain on that sort of basis?
Are not facts such as these directly related to any planning of the future? Yet how seldom do you hear them mentioned in the discussions of the brave new world to come. Is it not plain that if we realize that something infinitely precious is pass- 222 ing from us, then the first task we ought to hear constantly insisted on in official or semi-official speeches about the New Age is the rebuilding of the life of the family. Yet what do we find? It is satisfactory to know that the safeguarding of the family is one of the "Ten points of a Christian order"—not perhaps a very prominent one, but still one of the ten points—which are now being advocated up and down the country. But in all the official and semi-official propaganda which is now engrossed in discussing the various material attractions of the postwar age we hear practically nothing of this bedrock of our civilization.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby wrote last October to The Times, to draw attention to the fact that in the great Albert Hall meeting summoned by His Majesty's Government for women—for women, my Lords—as far as could be made out (because there was a certain secrecy about the transactions at that meeting) nothing seemed to have been said of the problems of the family, of home life, or of the difficulties of the rising generation. And among the galaxy of Ministers on the platform the Minister of Education was a conspicuous absentee. In the intermittent discharge of White Papers which the Government are contributing to the great argument now in progress, too often we find either apathy or what one can but regard as direct hostility, to the claims of a restored family life upon the future. You remember Mr. R. A. Butler's in many respects so admirable White Paper on education. What role did that leave for the parent? At best a walking-on part. When one reads the White Paper it is as if, at the age of five (or at the age of two if they are sent to nursery schools) children are to be placed upon a moving official escalator which henceforth carries them through stage after stage of their education— an escalator which the parents certainly did not design and over which they exercise singularly little control. Yet in the past men and women have usually desired to found families because of the deep satisfaction of feeling that they were themselves the chief influence on their children's careers and the chief source of their early benefits. Beware of the illusion that children are born for the State, or even for the Ministry of Education, for that way 223 lies race suicide. Beware of creating a world of State-controlled security where the citizen is tended and shepherded and watched over—in a Whipsnade world of security. A secure world, if you will, my Lords, but the sort of world in which the inmates do not breed.
Finally, my Lords, for the same two reasons, the two fundamental blindnesses to which I have been trying to refer, the tendency to forget that the ultimate object of planning is the complete welfare of man, and not mere material comfort, and the tendency to forget that there are certain precious qualities in deadly peril from the war which must first be restored before any healthy planning of the future can take place—for these same two reasons I think we are also far too ready to accept with equanimity the prospect of a very extensive degree of compulsion in this post-war world. Of course we all know— it has been often pointed out in your Lordships' House—that all planning must mean a considerable degree of compulsion. Unless the planner knows that we are going to do what he wants us to do he is not planning, but only guessing. In wartime, of course, we cannot afford guesswork, and so, in the current euphemism the State directs the young girl into the factory which she detests, and sends her to prison if she turns up late in the morning. In war-time we do not call that by its true name. But I notice that the other day one of our most distinguished planners, my friend Sir Ronald Davison, remarked, "I picture after the war a continuance of the power of direction to work." I hope that if Sir Ronald Davison means what he says, and gets what he wants, we shall call this policy in peacetime by its true name, which is industrial slavery.
Leadership and responsibility are much harder to achieve and much more worth achieving than compulsion and subservience. When Sir William Beveridge places on the title page of his collected essays, Pillars of Security, a quotation from an unpublished Report "the aim of leadership is to make the common man do uncommon things" one cannot help thinking that for many planners the operative word is "making."
Now I do not think that the new Minister of Reconstruction will fall into that heresy. Indeed, if some planner who sees 224 men and women as the mere bloodless material of graphs and statistics, or some civil servant intoxicated by the prospect of saving office-time through compulsion, should attempt to preserve our fetters in the new age, I have no doubt that, virtually as one man, we should rise and sweep these bureaucrats into limbo. For the common man, with whom I began— largely, I think, because he has preserved his sense of humour—is not, in this country, as in so many lands, frightened of Government Departments. He can still laugh at them; he can still remember that a Government Department is only his own friends and relations turned civil servants. He still remembers that the Government Department is the man who planned coal wrong in 1940, the man who invented the title Local Defence Volunteers for the Home Guard, the man who organized the identity card muddle this summer, and, in the last resort, the pert young lady with scarlet finger nails in the Food Office round the corner.
My Lords, what I have been trying to say is that there are dangers in planning, but that they will mostly fall away if only we remember that the true object of planning is Welfare, and not material comfort only, and that before we start planning we have to restore some of the most priceless qualities in our heritage. But to planning as presided over by the new Minister, in his so happily named Ministry, I look forward with every sympathy and confidence.
§ LORD SOULBURY
My Lords, some fifty years ago, I believe, it was reported that Sir William Harcourt declared that "We are all Socialists now," and I suppose to-day we might say in the same sense and with equal truth, that "We are all planners now." Perhaps I ought to exclude my noble friend Lord Elton from that description.
§ LORD SOULBURY
At any rate I am sure that noble Lords opposite would be quite willing to be described as planners, because I understand that the increase of State control and the extended supervision and superintendence of the lives of the individual are congenial to the theories of the noble Lords opposite, and thoroughly consonant with Socialist policy. So, no doubt, those noble Lords will hope that the plans in which they are interested will 225 proceed to fruition more speedily than the Socialism mentioned by Sir William Harcourt. Of course, the kind of planning which noble Lords opposite have in mind is a form of Socialism in the widest sense of that nebulous term, and anything which the Government may plan for the benefit of the community is socialistic. Indeed, a Government which made no plans for the future would be about as sub-human as an individual who took no thought for the morrow. Burke has been quoted already in to-day's debate. It was he, I think, who said somewhere that: "Government is a contrivance of human wisdom to provide for human wants." The maxim Gouverner c'est prévoir is about the best and simplest definition of the art of government. So the noble Lords' insistence on the need for plans and for legislation to enable them to be executed and put into effect must command sympathy and assent.
In listening to the debate it seemed to me that their real concern is with the timing of the plans. The Motion on the Paper urges an early announcement of policy and its execution without delay when the war is over. In short, the noble Lords are apprehensive lest the war should end and find us without any definite schemes or legislation designed to provide for human wants, or, in the Prime Minister's words, to secure work, homes and food for the people after the war. It is for that reason that the noble Lord, Lord Addison, urged the Government to make up their minds at once and to declare their decisions of policy on such large issues as the Beveridge, Barlow, Scott and Uthwatt Reports, and so forth.
Before saying anything on those issues, I would like to make this brief observation. There have, I think, in the last 150 years been only two great occasions on which wholesale planning of a drastic and urgent nature was demanded and carried out; those occasions were the French Revolution and the Russian Revolution. In both cases, the Governments were confronted with a state of affairs which was intolerable to the masses of their citizens, and was virtually a breakdown of society. Consequently, by methods of extreme severity and ruthless violence, those Governments produced clean slates and were able, and indeed they were forced, to plan with little or no regard for the past or the interests of 226 the old order. In short, the edifices which these Governments took over were so rotten as to make it impossible for them to adapt parts of the buildings to the new order and compelled them, indeed, to lay anew the foundations. Therefore, in those cases, speed and haste at the expense of appalling mistakes, and the sufferings of millions of individuals, were perhaps excusable and, probably, necessary.
But that, happily, is not the position here in this country. We are not faced with any such urgency as that. The beginning of this war found us with a social structure so well established and Social Services so well conceived and so well spread that to-day, after taking into account considerable expansions in those services since the war, I doubt if in any large country in the world the masses of the people enjoy comparable conditions of life to our own. The Prime Minister referred, in his admirable speech some time ago, to preparations for securing work, homes and food for the people after the war. If, we were told, there is any real likelihood of immediate lack of work and food when peace returns, then planning and the consequent legislation would be imperative and urgent now. But, apart from the temporary dislocation which may occur when peace returns, there should be enough work and to spare for every soul in this land for several years after the war. It would indeed be unduly optimistic to say that never again shall we be faced with the problem of unemployment as we were in pre-war days. I think it would be equally pessimistic to conclude that we are likely to face the pre-war problem of unemployment immediately hostilities cease.
As regards food, I cannot myself see why we should encounter greater difficulties immediately hostilities are ended in connexion with food than we are encountering now, and by common consent, and thanks to my noble friend, the nation has never in its history been more sensibly or more wisely fed. Given the maintenance for the time being of current scales of wages and prices, and the absence of any sudden recurrence of unemployment of a pre-war scale, the immediate postwar prospect in regard to our food supplies should not give grave anxiety. I think we know enough of the activities of the Minister of Reconstruction when he 227 was Minister of Food to feel pretty sure that he has foreseen that problem. The noble Lord opposite, Lord Addison, pressed for a decision as regards agricultural prices. Well, I had some connexion in another place some time ago with the Ministry of Agriculture. I should very much have liked to have fixed agricultural prices in place of the marketing legislation which the noble Lord initiated, but it would have been impossible for us in those days to get those prices. I am sure the noble Lord would agree.
§ LORD ADDISON
As the noble Lord is extremely interested in this, perhaps in expounding the general problem he will tell us how we could have fixed prices without a marketing organization.
§ LORD SOULBURY
The marketing organization is all right if fixed prices could follow from it. Now, the noble Lord must agree that fixing agricultural prices is an extremely difficult proposition.
§ LORD SOULBURY
The noble Lord says No, but you have got to fix a price which is adequate for the competent farmer, a price which is within the capacity of the consumer to pay, and you have to fix a subsidy at an amount which will have the approval of the taxpayer. I should be very much surprised indeed if you could fix prices without taking into account those three factors, and I must also remind the noble Lord that though he seems an advocate of fixed prices, I can well recollect with what grave displeasure his own Party in another place viewed any attempt to obtain subsidies for the farmers, which the taxpayer would have to pay.
§ LORD SOULBURY
Then how the noble Lord is going to get fixed prices to suit the consumer I do not know. Anyhow, I am glad he is consistent. His Party opposed subsidies before the war, and I presume will do so in future. I shall be interested to see how they engineer prices satisfactory to the farmer and the consumer alike.
§ LORD ADDISON
The noble Lord has been at the Ministry of Agriculture. I wonder whether he has given any study to the Wheat Act.
§ LORD SOULBURY
I am quite familiar with the Wheat Act, but wheat was not everything, and there were other things in which there was difficulty. As regards housing, I certainly think we shall meet with more immediate difficulties there than in connexion with work or food, but it is not the absence of new plans that produces the greatest difficulties, it is the absence or virtual suspension of house building since the war started. If the war had not interrupted the plans then in existence, very few slums would have been left in this country. Then, of course, there is enemy action. Clearly housing and slum clearance must be resumed at the earliest possible moment, but I do hope that all that work will not have to wait for some vast and ambitious formulation of a planning scheme, or for the intricate and complicated decisions regarding compensation. I believe it is authoritatively estimated that, apart from any planning, it will take the whole of the building industry about eighteen months to repair houses that have been damaged in the "Blitz." In short, our background for planning is totally different from that which has conditioned plans elsewhere, for instance, in Soviet Russia, and we can fortunately proceed, and should proceed, with much more deliberation, patience, and regard for the interests of the individuals for whom we plan. We are not in the condition that a bad plan is better than no plan at all. I think that is worth mentioning, because your Lordships may have observed that some planners, consciously or unconsciously, are influenced by the experiences of Soviet Russia, and sometimes bring to the consideration of planning an emotional fervour and unreasonable enthusiasm which are quite unsuited to the importance of the problem.
I might give as an instance the reception of the Beveridge Report. As a result of extremely skilful methods of publicity, large numbers of people in this country, whose knowledge was probably confined to what they heard on the wireless or picked up from snippets and comments in the Press, were led to believe that this Report would usher in the Millennium. Some reformers appear to be more shocked by criticisms of the Beveridge proposals than they would have been by the denial of Biblical inspiration. Part of the technique of these publicists has been to create the impression that this scheme 229 burst on a nation hitherto unprovided with Social Services except of a most rudimentary kind. They have denigrated the background in order to throw into stronger relief proposals which are in many ways comparatively pedestrian. I am sure it was the last thing its author desired, but the results of all this admiration is that his supporters have gone a long way towards prejudicing acceptance of the Report. It has been surfeited with overpraise, and its author has been overboosted. There is little new or original in the Report, and I think its author would be the first to admit that. It is a meritorious and painstaking scheme to co-ordinate and consolidate a great mass of social legislation. But apart from family allowances, of which the Government have already approved, and from the proposal for a State medical service, which was left to the Government to work out, there is not very much in the Report calculated to produce immediate advance on present conditions. And in the case of one class of the community, a class I am interested in, the supplementary pensioner, even in twenty years time the terms proposed in the Beveridge Report will be less favourable than the scales which those pensioners enjoy now.
The only explanation I can give for the remarkable excitement which the Report has evoked is that the public have confused its ultimate object, that is, the destruction of the "four giants," with the methods designed to destroy them. Having approved the ideals, many people have thought they could be realized at once, and its admirers have converted the Report into a slogan and a catchword. It seems to me the same sort of thing is very likely to happen in a lesser degree with these ether Reports—the Scott, Barlow and Uthwatt Reports. Nine-tenths of the people who applaud them have never read a line of them, and they have come to treat these proposals as if they were the tablets brought down from Sinai, and content themselves with shouting the names of the authors as battle cries. I do hope the Government will not be influenced by that kind of clamour, and if I know anything of the Minister of Reconstruction I am sure he will not be. In peace-time, when the energy of all Ministers and civil servants will be concentrated upon great issues of this kind, I shall still expect final decisions to take a very considerable time. For instance, I should 230 not expect plans for combining a State medical service with the individual's free choice of a doctor to be either speedy or unanimous; but in war, when we are devoting every ounce of our effort to winning the war—a war which, by the way, is not yet won—then I think lengthy deliberation is as natural as it is necessary.
One or two words more. I think we should remember that we are planning primarily for the younger generation. It is the younger generation that will be effected by our plans much more than we shall be, and I could wish that they could have more say in the planning. Unhappily most of them are in the Services and abroad and we have to plan in their absence. That does suggest that our planning should be as elastic as possible. General principles may be laid down, but detailed legislation affecting millions of young men and women might well be postponed until these young men and women can judge for themselves whether they like the plans their elders have prepared for them. I know it is quite impious to ask whether these plans can be afforded. I should be in danger of being styled a contractionist and deflationist by the noble Lord who recently gave his address on economics; but all the same I should like, if it were possible, to have some idea of what oar economic position is going to be at the end of the war before entering on financial commitments of a very vast and permanent extent.
In conclusion, there is one sphere of planning on which the Government have made up their mind, though I do not think a great deal of progress will be possible until the young people return. I refer to the Government's plan for education. The planning of the White Paper was not a hurried affair, as I well know. It has taken years of careful thought, patience, and negotiation, but it is the most important of all the plans —far more important than the material plans we have been discussing. There is a Chinese saying which runs as follows:If you are planning for one year, plant grain. If you are planning for ten years, plant trees. If you are planning for one hundred years, plant men.All our planning should be long-term planning, and if we plan wisely and plan 231 men, then most other things will be added unto us. If wrongly and unwisely, then the Beveridge Plan, the Scott, Barlow and Uthwatt Plans, and any other plan, will be doomed to failure.
§ VISCOUNT BLEDISLOE
My Lords, I hope I shall not be indulging in mere repetition when I add my own words of delight rather than congratulation on the appointment of my noble friend Lord Woolton as Minister of Reconstruction. I was instrumental in helping to set up the first Ministry of Food, and I have known intimately no fewer than six Ministers of Food in the last war and the present one. I can confidently say that none of them discharged his difficult task with more outstanding success or public confidence than did the new Minister of Reconstruction. If I may say so, he appears to combine the characteristics of a practical idealist with those of a man of wide catholicity of outlook and courage of execution; but there is one other factor to which no reference has been made, and which in my judgment is one of the highest qualifications for his present office. He is not, and never has been, an active politician. Incidentally, and by no means the least qualification, he is a member of your Lordships' House. As a member of your Lordships' House he is not subject to what I may call sectional pressure on the part of any constituents.
Having said that, I am entirely satisfied with the description that my noble friend gave yesterday of his relation to other Government Departments. Reconstruction must obviously be the work of several different Government Departments now in existence, with a staff more or less qualified for the special functions they are expected to undertake. I listened, as all your Lordships must have done, to the brilliant, inspiring, and to a large extent humorous speech of my noble friend Lord Elton. I cannot help thinking that if there is one feature of to-day's debate that will remain uppermost in your Lordships' minds, and perhaps historically, it is the utterance of my noble friend. He asked very pointedly, "What is the goal at which we are all aiming in the work of reconstruction, and how can that goal be reached?" Surely that is the very first function of the new Minister of Reconstruction. There, it seems to me, he may sometimes, in the work of supervision and co-ordination of the work of 232 other Departments, have to put his foot down very emphatically in making it perfectly clear that the course is being straightly and relentlessly pursued towards the goal that the nation desires. Having decided on the practicable objective, the main desiderata will surely be cohesion, vision, what Lord Latham described as "thinking ahead," initiative, and supervision. I am going to ask the noble Lord whether he is perfectly satisfied with the small staff with which he has been equipped. He told us of the immense staff to which he has lately said good-bye and which, in the public eye, at any rate, were better known for their quantity than their quality.
§ VISCOUNT BLEDISLOE
Let me finish— except for those at the very top. He was peculiarly fortunate in having around him men like Lord Horder and others with scientific and technical knowledge who were able to a large extent to help him and direct him along the right path. I hope that in his new office he is fully equipped with outstanding technicians and scientists because I feel absolutely confident that he will find himself badly in need of their services long before he has efficiently discharged his very onerous task. Unfortunately Government Departments are not outstanding in their possession of skilled scientists, and those scientists, as we have had in the light of war experience to admit, generally have a status and emoluments on a lower scale than those who carry out the work of administration. That is where, in my humble judgment, so many of our Government Departments have made sad mistakes in days gone by. I hope earnestly that in this connexion the noble Lord has at his right hand men of outstanding capacity and distinction in the matter of science and technique.
We are told by the Prime Minister, endorsed by leading men of all Parties, that the main desiderata, in the first place if not as a whole, are work, food, and homes. No doubt during the period of demobilization, or at any rate for a short time after the war, the provision of essential food and essential homes will be given some degree of preference, but surely of the three the most important is employment. Employment, surely, must be given priority, not merely to provide the means of social betterment—for without some degree of industrial prosperity the means 233 will not be forthcoming—but to prevent our people becoming a mendicant race dependent on State charity. We have seen all too much of that condition since the last war. The most reverend Prelate to whom we listened, I am sure, with great interest yesterday, deprecated inter alia the production of luxury goods. I should like very emphatically to endorse what he said on that subject. But the supply of such goods, of course, depends largely upon the demand, and I venture to suggest that the demand for luxury goods should be checked, to some extent, not only by a salutary influence and fashion, but also, if necessary, by Government action.
The noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, who made an excellent speech yesterday, put in a plea for the simple life. Surely many of our troubles during the last few years have been due largely to our life becoming much too complex, and if we can only revert to a condition of greater simplicity in every class of the community we should be a happier and much more contented people. In the course of our long history we have had sumptuary laws enacted and I venture to hope that, if we have any undue parade of wealth, which is ant to create discontent and undesirable trends of fashion, the Government will have no hesitation in enacting sumptuary laws.
The most reverend Prelate referred. I am glad to see, to protective foods. May I remind your Lordships that if yon mean to have a good supply of protective foods you must look to the land of Great Britain to provide them? The bulk of our protective foods do not come from overseas and I venture to hope, in the light of the experience of the present war, that they will not in the future. The only sentence uttered by the Minister of Reconstruction in his admirable speech yesterday which caused me a little anxiety was what he said about our export trade. He said that the development of our export trade was necessary to keep our people as well fed as heretofore. That is all right, with qualifications, but there must be some proper balance and we look to the Minister of Reconstruction to hold the scales with vision and impartiality between urban industries and their exports and our home agriculture.
We can grow three-fifths of our essential foods—I rather think that the noble 234 Lord opposite (Lord Addison) would put it a little higher—if we greatly intensify our methods of husbandry, but I am confident after, if I may say so, a very considerable study and experience of these matters, that in the light of present-day husbandry and expected potentialities we can grow at home three-fifths of our essential foods. What I would like to ask the urban industrialists is this: Why not look for more customers amongst our impoverished rural population by giving them more purchasing power? I do not suppose that there is any country in the civilized world where there is greater disparity between the purchasing power of the rural community and that of the industrial community than is to be found in this country. In connexion with that I would like to remind your Lordships—I need not remind the Minister of Reconstruction—that secondary industries have been developed steadily for the last few years in every country that has been in the habit of sending us food in exchange for our factory exports, and in every one of those countries to-day there are war-time factories set up for the provision of war materials which undoubtedly will be adapted after the war for the production of secondary commodities. That being so, is it unfair to ask that some of those exports, which have formerly gone to countries that are now providing these goods for themselves and will do so to a greater extent after the war, should go to our own rural community, always assuming that they have the money to pay for them, which they will be able to do if a greater prosperity develops in our British countryside.
If we are to build a new Britain and point the way to the building of a new world, we must have not merely a perfectly clear objective, but we must be practical in our plans and we must be constructive. Reconstruction must not mean demolition. That is the problem which I want to put to my friends (and I have many of them), in the Labour Party. Cut away the dead wood —and goodness only knows that there is plenty of it, as those of us who have lived observantly in other and newer countries discover very rapidly when we visit those countries— but do not uproot if, by pruning and fertilization, you can produce more rapidly the desired result. The policy of the Labour Party, let us be perfectly frank, 235 as recently announced in the Press, includes the nationalization of agricultural land. If nationalization is contemplated within the next ten years then let us frankly know, and as good patriots I am perfectly certain that we who own land will do our best in the public interest. The alternative is for the Government to make crystal clear to landowners, farmers and industrialists what is their optimum task for their country's welfare, and perfectly clear too that if they fulfil it to the best of their ability they will not be unduly interfered with.
The present uncertain outlook surely leads to insecurity and hesitancy. I noticed that when my noble friend Lord Addison, whose clarity of reasoning and expression is beyond all challenge, came to the subject of land he trod somewhat delicately and nebulously. But why should there be any delicacy or mystery about our land policy? If justification be shown for the acquisition of land in this relatively small and densely populated country for the clamant needs of the public, the public ought to have it without complicated procedure, without procrastination, and without being made the victims of exploitation or indeed of speculative greed, which I wish to goodness the Government would take immediate steps to stem at once in face of the urgent requirements of our local authorities, on one of which I have the honour to service. But why nationalize all agricultural land and thus undermine individual enterprise and create a feeling of insecurity in regard to it? Let the Government and local authorities, preferably the larger local authorities, take what land they want as and when they really want it, and let the Government put a premium upon the optimum use and development and improvement of the remaining land of the country.
To use a popular expression, agricultural landowners for the last thirty or forty years, however well-intentioned they may have been, have not had "a dog's chance" of justifying themselves and pulling their full weight in the national interest. Successive Governments, by their lack of long-range policy in regard to agriculture and by their neglect ignorant neglect, I would suggest—of our main industry, have put a premium upon the misuse of agricultural land. Speak- 236 ing not only as an agricultural landowner, albeit a somewhat impoverished one, but as a member of a family of agricultural landowners who have been such for many generations, I have always earnestly desired to see the Government of this country make perfectly clear to agricultural landowners what they want in the national interest and call upon the landowners to carry out their optimum function. Nothing of that sort has ever been done during the many years I have been in public life, and I do not know that it has ever been done during the last hundred years. I venture to say that if you give at least the old-fashioned agricultural landowner the opportunity of justifying himself in the national interest he will more than carry out the task allotted to him.
The noble Lord opposite went so far as to say, "safeguard the rent." Yes, and unless you safeguard the rent the capital equipment of farm holdings will not be maintained. May I remind my noble friend opposite that two-thirds of the whole capital embarked in the agricultural industry belongs to the landowner? And may I also remind him that it is proved beyond dispute that the average agricultural landowner in this country does not receive more than 2¼ to2½ per cent. upon his capital embarked in the industry? How is it possible for him to keep his equipment up to date, his buildings, his fixed plant, his machinery, his roads and cottages and all the rest of his equipment, if he gets a return of only 2¼ to 2½ per cent.? In any prosperous urban industry it is admitted that a man looks for at least 8 per cent. in order to justify his industrial enterprise. The noble Lord opposite spoke of a case quite recently of an agricultural landowner attempting to raise the rent of his tenant by 50 per cent. I want to ask him very seriously whether he regards that as a typical case, because I cannot believe that it is.
§ LORD ADDISON
I am glad to answer that question at once. I regard it as most exceptional. But I think it is grossly prejudicial that anything of that kind should happen. That is why I asked the Government to take steps to see that that sort of thing was limited. It is very exceptional.
§ VISCOUNT BLEDISLOE
I am grateful to my noble friend for making that 237 explanation, because I think his remarks yesterday might convey a wrong impression. I am perfectly certain that the average agricultural landowner is only too ready to help his tenants to get the largest possible output of food, particularly during this war period. Such an incident as the noble Lord mentions is by no means a common one.
I have only one other thing to say, and that is with regard to housing. I find it very difficult to believe, although I think it has been stated from official sources, that from three to four million additional cottages are required. That number represents the requirements of something like one-third of the whole of our population. Is that really so? If it is so, I would venture to suggest a course which might be pursued. My noble friend Lord Elton in his eloquent speech spoke in another connexion of reconstructing and reconditioning. A very large number of cottages are perfectly capable of being reconditioned and installed with modern equipment and made perfectly fit for our working population, although before the war they were condemned as unfit for human habitation. Experience has proved that a very large number of such cottages can be reconditioned and made perfectly fit for the tidiest and best of our rural working population to live in. I hope that when we consider the housing question we shall not only be unashamed to adopt prefabricated material, but that we shall also undertake the task of reconditioning a large number of houses which can be brought up to date and nude perfectly fit for occupation.
§ LORD BARNBY
My Lords, my intention in intervening in this debate is in emphatic contrast to that of the noble Lord who spoke first to-day. Lord Latham's intention seemed to be to disparage the speech of the Minister of Reconstruction. I in contrast not only welcome his appointment and offer him all felicitations in the great task ahead of him, but would add that his speech yesterday was a great Parliamentary achievement. Lord Addison in moving the Resolution laid emphasis on the agricultural aspects of this problem. I would feel it wrong that a debate like this should take place without stress being put on the industrial angles of reconstruction. I am not, of course, suggesting that my noble friend the Minister of Reconstruction will overlook those angles. 238 But in going through the speeches that were delivered yesterday I noticed that there was a marked absence of references to that side of the matter, though it would be wrong to forget the remarks of the most reverend Prelate. But let us remember that whatever reconstruction may involve it is our exports that are going to permit us to have the standard of living we want, and our exports must depend on industry. I would like to echo what my noble friend Lord Bledisloe has just said, that it is fortunate that the Minister of Reconstruction should be a member of this House. Here he will be free from discussions in controversial passion, and he will be free to get on with his task the better.
The overriding matter upon which I would comment is one to which Lord Woolton made no reference yesterday, but to which I hope he will find it possible to make reference in his reply. Be it industrial or be it agricultural, welfare must depend on the overriding international monetary or clearing policy which the Government have given us the encouragement of thinking that by the practised diligence of Lord Keynes we may shortly have put before us. We have been led to expect a practical and promising scheme. That need, after all, dominates all our activities. My noble friend Lord Latham made a most inaccurate accusation against Lord Woolton in stating that his whole speech had been based on a contractionist policy.
§ LORD BARNBY
I feel sure, however, that the speech of Lord Woolton entirely disproves any suggestion of a contractionist policy which is what I understood my noble friend to suggest that it foreshadowed.
§ LORD BARNBY
Perhaps it will be more easy to interpret what my noble friend said when we see the official record to-morrow. Until that moment I will not make any further comment on my noble friend's remarks.
§ LORD BARNBY
In a debate like this speakers must confine themselves to a 239 limited time and I propose to address myself to one subject only—namely, house construction—but in doing so not to follow the example of my noble friend Lord Latham (with whom I may say I am in entire agreement as to housing being the dominant feature of our national life), in occupying thirty-seven minutes before I arrive at my point. I was glad that Lord Addison, in moving the Resolution, laid emphasis on housing and water supply as being two of the matters which required the earliest attention. As to housing, I may say that from discussions we have had in this House I have been mystified at the delay in recognizing that there is a need for some types to supplement the orthodox types in order to produce in time the dwellings we require. It is inescapable that we should have a supplementary programme if we are to avoid risking a social disturbance following upon demobilization and an insufficiency of houses. It has been urged in this House that the system to which the description of prefabrication has been applied should be adopted. Last year I was on the Californian coast and visited the shipbuilding yards of Mr. Kayser. I there saw what prefabricated ships are and how they are constructed. Obviously this war could not be won unless orthodox methods of shipbuilding were supplemented by some novel system, and that is what this prefabrication is. It promises well to meet requirements for ships. But in the last debate here little encouragement was given by the Government spokesman to the suggestion that a programme for houses on similar lines might be adopted.
Lord Woolton in his remarks yesterday spoke with appreciation of the co-operation which he looked for from the Minister of Works, and emphasized the importance of his part. We are glad to note from the patient attendance throughout the debate of Lord Portal that this can be counted on. If housing is entitled to the emphasis which is laid upon it in this House it is undoubtedly going to be as the result of his action. In this connexion I turn to the statement of the Minister of Production in another place on November 30. That statement records the adoption by the Government of recommendations made in this House in the last debate, first, that all house-building should be put under a single Minister, and secondly, 240 that some programme other than the orthodox system of building—call it prefabrication if you like—should be adopted. It was made quite clear what were the powers given to the Minister of Works and I welcome the emphasis laid on that point. His wide responsibility as Chairman of the Raw Materials Committee adds to his qualifications. The Minister of Production in defining the responsibilities of the Minister of Works recorded that the Ministry of Health will look to him for "plans, designs, specifications, materials and the technique of construction and costs of houses." Does that make him responsible for all house construction by the Government? I hope it docs, and that, if any doubt exists, the Minister of Reconstruction will clear it. There are, plainly, social angles relating to housing which must remain with the Minister of Health, but all matters of house-building must be left with the Minister of Works.
§ LORD WOOLTON
Would the noble Lord please give me the precise quotation as I would like to follow this up?
§ LORD BARNBY
I am reading from the statement of the Minister of Production on September 30. I should like to add a word about prefabricated houses. The noble Lord, Lord Latham, has made a habit of pouring disparagement on prefabricated houses. In the debate in this House on May 14 he said there was a good deal of nonsense being talked about prefabrication, and he hesitated to advocate any wide use in normal circumstances of prefabricated buildings for houses and cottages. I think, with his admitted experience of social planning of housing, he does a great disservice to disparage this industrial method of providing the necessary houses. I say that because if the housing problem is to be solved in time industrial production must be brought in. We are indebted to the Minister of Works for his initiative in promising a series of prototypes of new construction, which will afford opportunity of inspection, to all housing authorities. It must be realized that the industrial mass production of houses by this prefabricated system, which can be brought about, for example, from the utilization of the aircraft industry, can do something to help in the solution of the problem.
241 There is the problem of whether such houses should be regarded as of a permanent or a temporary character. That must depend upon the types, but as the volume of houses that is needed cannot be provided by ordinary methods, those which involve an admitted short-term life should be regarded as a war charge. There are such types where "demountability" is a feature, and I have confidence the Ministry' of Works will explore all those possibilities. The noble Lord, Lord Woolton, yesterday emphasized that all plans with regard to building must form one orderly whole, and that there must be no "unbalance." The House felt encouraged because he has the powers which he requires to guide all the Ministries concerned. With that assurance it seems that the whole can go forward, to use a military metaphor, in a well-dressed alignment, and not in échelon. Because if we are to get our industrial production going full blast after the war, we must have houses. And I am encouraged to feel that building has now been put into the hands of the Ministry of Works to carry out.
§ LORD HEMINGFORD
My Lords, my excuse for intervention is that at the end of the last Session I put a Motion on the Order Paper to raise this very question of reconstruction after the war. The next day we read the Prime Minister's speech in the City which, I take it, foreshadowed the appointment of Lord Woollon. That of necessity meant that I did not put forward my Motion in the same terms, and there are a few words that I want to say on the particular point which moved me to put down that original Motion. I have been, I may say, completely reassured by Lord Woolton's speech yesterday in which he addressed himself to the very point which I wanted to make, and which I will now put shortly. The first reconstruction to which we have to give our attention is the reconstruction of our national resources. It was described in The Times the other day as the recreation of wealth. I never supposed that the Government—and certainly I am sure it would not be so with Lord Woolton— would overlook that particular point.
There is one thing in which I think a new Minister would require the assistance not only of all his colleagues in the Government, but of every member of your Lordships' House and every well- 242 intentioned person of influence in the country, and that is to get our people to realize what is meant by the reconstruction of our national resources. Lord Woolton has been extraordinarily successful in his recent post, and I think he would be one of the first to acknowledge that his success was largely due to the fact that he obtained the sympathy, the support and the co-operation of the people of the country as a whole. That was due very largely to his own method of going to work, and I feel no doubt whatever that if we do our best to support him in his work of reconstruction he will get the same sympathy and co-operation from the people of the country. The Prime Minister has used the phrase "Food, work and homes." As to food, before we distribute the loaves we have to grow the corn, and before we can hand over homes for heroes we have to build them; and as to work there will be, or should be, a shortage of labour, not a lack of opportunities for work. But what will be necessary will be an organization, so that those who are willing to work not merely those who want work but those who are willing to work—will be able to work in the direction which will be most useful.
That brings up a detail on which I want to say a word, though I do not think it is quite a subject for detailed discussion in this debate—that is the question of demobilization. The noble Lord opposite made a reference to what he described as the "mess" which was made after the last war in the matter of demobilization. I am not going to dispute that for one moment. The point I wish to bring forward is that there is at the present time, as we all know, a very great shortage of labour in the mines and a very great shortage of labour in the building industry. I put forward this plea that, subject to other necessary considerations, demobilization should be carried out as far as possible pari passu with the opportunities for work—in other words, that the first people to be released from the Forces as soon as ever they can be spared should be those who are urgently required, and will still be required, in the mines and in the building trade.
Then, with regard to the main point, I should like all of us to do our best to impress on the country the need for a reconstruction of our resources. We have 243 got to try to get people to preserve that same spirit of patriotism and good endeavour for the common interest which has marked the fighting part of the war. I want people to understand that this war is far more than a mere matter of fighting. It has been a tremendous defeat— it is not too early to call it a defeat— of a most evil idea with regard to government and the management of life of people in this world. That will not be finished when Germany and her allies are defeated. The actual end of the shooting will be not more than the half-way house, if it is as far as that. When the shooting stops we shall have to go on for a long time working hard and submitting, I hope not to all the discomforts we have had, but to a great many of them. The Prime Minister attained the support of this country by no promises or bribes, but by telling the people frankly that he could only promise them "blood, sweat, and tears." Lord Woolton may feel something of the same spirit. He will not promise us blood and tears in the sense in which those words were used by the Prime Minister, but he will do well to promise that for a long time to come we shall have self-denial, sweat and toil.
There is one thing I should like to add before I sit down. I thoroughly agree with Lord Latham in his remark as to the tremendous source of wealth we have got in our great capacity to produce. I would make only one observation about it: that what we want is not merely what we have the capacity to produce; what we want is the opportunity to put that capacity to the best use. That is the great task that faces the Minister of Reconstruction and which I feel perfectly certain he will discharge as well as anyone who could have been placed in that position.
§ LORD JESSEL
My Lords, I promise not to detain you long at this late hour, but I should like to say a few words on the Motion. In the first place I hope I shall not make Lord Woolton blush if I add a few further words of praise. He stood up to the barrage from the opposite Benches yesterday in the most remarkable manner. For a statesman who has not had a very long political experience, he must have been somewhat surprised at the warm reception he got on his first big and important speech in his new capacity.
244 This has been a very interesting debate, because we have heard views of different kinds, and it has been altogether very useful. One speech that struck me very much was Lord Elton's, and I was impressed by the remark of Lord Soulbury, when he said that we were not all Socialists now, but we were all planners. Planning is a very difficult subject. Though we have all our various ideas, there has been a remarkable divergence of opinion as to which should come first—work, food, or houses. I want to say a few words about housing because it is a subject in which I have taken a great interest for many years. It seems to me rather absurd to say that if the houses are not found there is going to be a social revolution when the men come home from abroad. I am sure they will realize how difficult these things have been during the war, when we have had this shortage of materials and so on. I do not believe that, with that spirit which animates our Forces in the field to-day, they will come back with any such revolutionary ideas in their minds. On the contrary, they will quite understand. I am sure that every effort will be made by the Government to supply what they possibly can.
I was very much interested in what my noble friend Lord Barnby said about prefabricated houses. I am only sorry he is not here at present, because he did not make a very long explanation, as he usually does. What did he mean? He mentioned that in California he had seen the wonderful work done by Mr. Kayser in the matter of ships. As I understand it, these ships are mostly concrete. I do not know how much concrete we are going to have in this country after the war, but I put forward this consideration. You have in London the most elaborate plan of the London County Council, which has been very well received, and I am glad to pay this tribute to the London County Council. They have worked extremely well with all the Metropolitan Boroughs, and there has been constant consultation between them. There will be a tremendous need for houses in London, and what I am going to suggest is that we do not want to interfere with the permanent designs of London or of any other part of the country—the roads or lay-out of the future.
But there must be available after the war any amount of huts. It used to be 245 said in the last war that once you put up huts, they would never be taken away again. I cannot see why that cannot be done as a temporary measure. I well remember, after the last war, that I had a very large camp, and the Government sent inspectors down to see it. They said it was spendid, but in the disastrous wave of economy in which the Government lost so much through the premature sale of stores, among other things, that camp was swept away. It was very well built. To show how well some of those huts are built I well remember that when I came back from India in 1890 I was very comfortable in a hut that had been built in the Crimea. I venture to suggest to the Government that they might really look into this matter. I am sure there must be thousands of huts in the country, and if the local authorities understood they were not to be used as permanent abodes they would put them to some use as a reinforcement to help the Minister of Works in providing houses.
There is another point to which I should like to refer. It was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Bledisloe who must lave rejoiced the heart of Lord Latham when he said the public in the towns should have the land. But he did not say at what cost. He went on to speak about the necessity of repairing houses as far as they are available. I can assure him from my own knowledge that local authorities have received instructions from the appropriate Ministry to do what they possibly can in this respect and they are doing so to the fullest extent. The trouble is with the water supply and drainage of a great many houses. People have gone away and left the houses empty and they are not in a condition at the moment to receive the repairs that must be done to them. That, however, is a minor matter compared with the bigger necessity of finding adequate accommodation for the many people who are now so terribly cramped for want of room. I promised your Lordships I would not be long—I am not as a rule long when I speak in your Lordships' House—but I ventured to offer this contribution to the debate in the hope that the authorities may not do as they did after the last war, scrap every available hut and sell them at matchwood prices. There is a good supply of huts in the country and my hope is that some use will be made of them.
§ Moved, That the debate be now adjourned.—(Lord Southwood.)
§ On question, Motion agreed to.