HL Deb 14 July 1943 vol 128 cc505-28

LORD NATHAN rose to call the attention, of His Majesty's Government to the importance of the time factor in the preparation of schemes for post-war reconstruction, and to ask whether His Majesty's Government propose to establish a system of priorities in regard to plans for reconstruction; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the purpose of the Motion which I bring be-fore your Lordships' House is to draw attention to certain matters of urgency, as I conceive them, which ought to be decided while the fight is still on and before the war comes to an end. The immediate cause of my bringing this matter before your Lordships is a recent speech on behalf of the Government by the Minister of Economic Warfare. In that speech he said in almost as many words that it is not possible to make decisions while the war is on. That was a statement which was disconcerting and, indeed, alarming to many of us. Naturally, I wish to be in every way completely fair, so I will ask your Lordships' leave to read one or two passages from the speech of the noble Earl. In order not to weary your Lordships I must indulge in the gentle art of selective quotation, but I hope, and indeed I am sure, that the noble Earl will not complain that in what I quote in order to make my point I am doing him less than justice.

He was speaking in a debate on agriculture on May 27 and making a declaration on behalf of His Majesty's Government. In the course of his speech he made these observations: … you cannot draft the policy of one great department of our national economy without reference to issues of basic importance in other great departments of national economy. I have no adverse comment to make on that. Then the noble Earl went on: … the blunt fact is that Cabinet Ministers, when the whole of their energies are devoted to winning the war … simply have not got the time to go into these numerous and immensely complicated questions with the thoroughness and care with which they will have to be gone into one day. The Civil Service and experts can, of course, do preparatory work. An immense amount of preparatory work is going on at the present moment, and has been going on for some time; but there are matters which must come before leading members of the Government in any such considerations of policy, and"— note these words, my Lords— it is physically impossible for them to give the requisite amount of time to these problems at this juncture. Moreover, Cabinet Ministers do not yet know enough of what the conditions of the post-war world are going to be to be able to form a correct judgment on some of the questions which will have to be answered.

Then the noble Earl went on to make quotations from the speeches of Sir John Anderson, Sir Kingsley Wood, Mr. Herbert Morrison, and the Lord Chancellor on the Beveridge Report. He selected for quotation just those passages which had given rise to the greatest indignation and the utmost suspicion and hostility. I now quote the noble Earl again: I have made those quotations at some length to show that the considerations which forced the Government to adopt that attitude with regard to the Beveridge Report apply equally to agriculture, and indeed to all these very great questions which are awaiting solution after the war and which cannot be considered in isolation and which have to be considered as part of one picture. All that we are saying is that that consideration must necessarily take a considerable amount of time. Here is the last passage I wish to quote: Therefore all that I am saying to your Lordships this afternoon is that our reformers, whether they be reformers in education or in agriculture or in social security or in housing or in planning, must have a measure of patience and confidence in the Government, and may I add they must have mercy on the physical capacity of Ministers? The noble Earl will agree that I have fairly represented the point I wish to bring to the notice of the House.

My noble friend Lord Addison, in a speech following the noble Earl, characterized his statement as having indicated that nothing could be decided until everything was decided. Your Lordships have heard the main passages of the speech out of which the criticism arises. I do not think anyone would question that that speech, and those quotations, indicated to your Lordships and to the country that the experts are indeed gathering data and preparing memoranda, but Ministers have no time, in the pressure of war work, to take decisions. Of course Ministers are busy, of course there is a strain upon their energies and time. No doubt it would be a very good thing if every issue but war-making could be set on one side, but it cannot; that will not do. Perhaps the noble Earl did not really mean what his speech appeared to mean. Here is his chance to say so.

Let me indicate to your Lordships some of the matters which, as it seems to me, need and must have decision whilst the fighting is on, before the war ends. First, there are the urgent and inescapable problems of what may be called, in general terms—because I mean more than the mere coming back of the members of the Armed Forces—demobilization. There is a bare minimum of decisions that must be made, certain steps which must necessarily be taken; these are short-term, immediate, urgent. These are matters that must be decided before the fighting stops, however busy Ministers may be now. What are these matters? Let me just indicate them in headlines. There is demobilization proper. That means the release of men from factory or war service. There is the reassembly, rehousing, re-equipment of war-scattered families. There is the question of homes for those who come home or go to peacetime work. We shall need every expedient, temporary and permanent, to deal with the inevitable overcrowding. There is the question of equipment for industry as remobilization starts, and there is a priority order that must be decided, as the noble Earl, Lord Elgin, said in another context earlier this afternoon. What in effect I am referring to is the orderly change-over: the release of men and machines according to set, known and accepted principles, the re-engagement of men and machines for peace work in order of need, the building of essential living places and work places.

So much for the short-term problem, but there are the longer-term problems of reconstruction or remobilization as distinct from demobilization. There is an essential minimum of decision that must be made in these broader matters also and made now, immediately, before peace breaks out. Let me indicate in outline what some of these matters are. Let me put first agriculture, for it is out of that subject that this discussion arises. It was in a debate on agriculture that the noble Earl made the speech to which I have referred. Take agriculture then. After all, on the farming policy and programme made now or not made now depends the diet and the standard of living of our people for a very long time to come. Is it to be self-sufficiency on the war model or is it to be specialization on world co-operation on the Hot Springs model? This is a decision that has to be made now. Lord Woolton has welcomed Hot Springs and recognized the obligations to act. As recently as May 27 the noble Earl stated that the Government had not made a decision and could not at that time, for the reasons I indicated, make a decision on agricultural policy. But does Lord Woolton's statement in this House the other day in the Hot Springs debate mean that Mr. Hudson has now had time to make a decision? And if he has, what is the decision? Let us know it, for if we start on the wrong foot we can never get right. We must start as we mean to go on. We would like to know how it is intended we should start.

Close to farming is of course the land. There can be no conscious direction of the nation's resources unless there is positive and effective control of the use of land. If post-war building and postwar re-equipment of industry and transport begin without a decision as to this there will be no plan. If we start on the wrong foot we can never get right. We must start as we mean to go on. We want, then, three decisions. Is the Barlow proposal for a plan to prevent the wrong use of land, the wrong allocation of industry and the consequent congestion of cities to be acted upon? Is the Scott proposal for the protection of agricultural land to be acted upon? Is the Uthwatt proposal for solving the compensation problem to be accepted and applied? Barlow, Scott and Uthwatt are there. The work has been done. I ask, what about it? I must ask, what about it? If there are no decisions there will be no policy and remobilization will be as haphazard, as chaotic, as disastrous and as blighting as it was last time. We must make up our minds before we start.

Then there is the whole broad issue of social security. There again the work has been done. Beveridge is far better known than Barlow, Uthwatt and Scott. The Beveridge Report has two main aspects; first, the plan for social security for the prevention of want by guaranteeing a subsistence income for every family against every contingency. Here, my Lords, there is a decision. It has been turned down for the moment. The Government have said No. I do not want to elaborate it but the noble Lord will realize that what I said is that the Government have taken a decision in the negative as to a subsistence income. That is of course the case. But there is another aspect of Beveridge, a series of proposals to reform particular social services, health insurance, workmen's compensation, pensions, unemployment insurance, and Beveridge would add new ones, children's allowances, maternity benefit, training benefit, medical services. The Government say they have accepted most of these. Some of the reforms have been overdue for a generation. The Prime Minister has said that the work is in progress, but now we are told. "No decisions whilst the war is on."

To me at least, and to my noble friends, that is a frightening prospect. Is it really intended that the men who come back from the wars are to come back to the old inadequate cash benefits, the old insufficient treatment benefits, the old extravagant administration? That is what there will be for them if decisions are not made and action taken before they come back. What about their houses, their homes? Here there is indeed a plan, a ten-year plan, to employ 1,250,000 workers and erect 4,000.000 homes, Excellent. I congratulate both Mr. Ernest Brown and Mr. Ernest Bevin. But there is more to it than that. What sort of houses, what is to be the cost of the houses, how are the houses to be furnished, by whom built? The building will start at once when the men begin to come home because some kind of shelter will be an imperative and urgent need, but unless other decisions are made and unless steps are taken what is done will be as costly, as ineffective and as chaotic in meeting real needs as it was last time. We must start as we mean to go on and so we want before the peace not only Barlow, Scott and Uthwatt but a decision about housing finance, building organization, administration and costs. We must start right or we shall never get right at all. What about the men's children? Where is the Education Bill? What kind of schools are they going to have a chance of going to and for how long? What kind of teachers? What about school buildings and equipment? These are things that must be decided before the evacuees and their fathers come home. What has been done to work out the intention to bring about full employment?

It is said that no decision can be taken because there is no time for decision. Does this really mean that all of them— agricultural plan, social security, housing, full employment, civil aviation—must all go by default? Does it mean that the technique of maintaining the nation's consumption and its investment, public and private, in order to provide ample and lasting work for our people must on no account take up a Minister's time, that Ministers are too busy? Surely not. Surely preparations are being made. Why then this timid refusal, this coy denial? Some preparations, as I say, are being made. The Prime Minister has said so. Lord Selborne has said so. But we want more than that. Decisions must be made. These really are matters of urgency. We really must start the moment peace breaks out as we mean to go on, which means that we must make up our minds before we start.

As I have already said, these are remobilization as distinct from demobilization problems. The remobilization long-term policy will be decisive for our future, but remobilization and demobilization are not really always quite separable. The siting of new houses and factories, for instance, will depend on or will itself determine by default long-term decisions about the location of industry and the growth of cities. Decisions taken now on these matters are an essential part of the long-term background to the short-term policy. Remobilization of men and businesses and re-equipment of factories must depend upon the policy that is to be adopted in the longer term for full employment at home and commercial relations with foreign countries and with the countries of the Empire and Commonwealth. The short-term expedients of the Armistice must take their colour from the longer-term intentions; indeed, there is good ground for saying that if the short-time expedients are out of step with the longer-term intentions, the longer-term intentions will never be realized. The fact of the matter is that the fate of reconstruction will be largely determined by the character of the demobilization that is carried through on the cessation of the fighting and in the period that immediately follows upon that.

There are certain matters, then, which, whether we like it or not, must be decided before the fighting stops. To decide nothing beforehand on these questions will be tantamount to deciding badly. To have no policy before the fighting ends will be tantamount to having the wrong policy. I have indicated some of the questions which must in my opinion be answered now—not only dealt with by careful and expert preparation, but answered now by decisions on policy at Cabinet level which will produce a programme of action ready to apply the moment the fighting stops.

Finally, my Lords, I would say this. The situation in the period immediately before the peace is the same as the situation in the years immediately before the war. Then there was much preparation, but no preparedness. That was the difference, or one of the differences, between Mr. Chamberlain and Mr. Churchill. Now again there are preparations but no proof of preparedness, and the tasks of peace are not likely to be less than those of the war. Time is no more on our side in matters of demobilization and remobilization than it was in the whole grim business of mobilization for battle. I hope there may be some reassurance to our anxiety from the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, and I urge upon His Majesty's Government that we should be prepared, and by prepared I mean prepared by decisions made, by policies laid down, by programmes in train. Preparation is not enough; what is needed is preparedness. I beg to move.


My Lords, I will not keep your Lordships more than five minutes. I am very much in agreement with a large part of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, but not altogether. I am as anxious as anyone else to see reconstruction started after the war as soon as possible. I want to see at least four million houses built, a large increase in the Exchequer grant for education, the progressive measures of the Beveridge Report coming into effect, and also town and country planning carried out to the greatest extent. I should like to see all these things done in due course, but where is the money coming from to carry them out immediately after the war? Enterprising individuals, men like Lord Nuffield, who would like to use their brains and their energies to produce the necessary merchandise and goods wanted by foreign countries, are being crushed by taxation. After the war this country will live or die by her export trade and at this time, when the call should be for all hands to pull together, it is looked on as heresy to challenge the notion of some politicians that private enterprise must go and be replaced by State-managed businesses.

I think the noble Lord's question is so important that it is a great pity it should be relegated to the end of a rather busy sitting. I cannot understand why there should be such a small attendance when we are discussing this very important point. The second part of the question, which refers to priority, is interesting because it is evident the noble Lord himself does not believe it will be possible to build houses, improve our education and bring in the Beveridge recommendations all at the same time. In my opinion, with the exception of housing and the reconstruction of armament factories for peace-time needs—which should have priority—all those other measures should be postponed until the country is on a firm financial basis.

People who say that these big social improvements should be made immediately after the war at a cost of one month's war expenditure, do not realize the true position. We hear it said very often, and of course it is very hard to counter when we are spending millions of money on war. But people who say that do not realize that directly the war ceases, the whole financial outlook of the world, including exchange and credit, will change. If this country continued to carry on a war expenditure in peace time, she would be considered to be heading straight for bankruptcy and our credit in the countries with which we do business would dry up. It cannot be said too often that we live by our export trade. The more commitments and promises the Government make now which will mean the expenditure of vast sums of money after the war, the less chance shall we have of regaining our export trade and giving employment to our returned soldiers. We shall have to ease the burden of taxation to give a chance for private enterprise to get going.

I do not want to break the Party truce, but if the Socialist Party obtain power—and they have said they propose to do so—and take over all industrial undertakings, they are going to kill individual enterprise, and the source from which the golden eggs have come will be destroyed. Are they quite sure that what they propose to put in the place of incentive and endeavour will work? In my opinion to change over from the free system of individual enterprise and initiative in industry to a Socialist dictatorship in the management of the business of the nation—because to function properly it will have to be a dictatorship —would be a mad risk which it would be folly for the Government of a warworn and exhausted country to take. So-called capitalism has given this country the finest social service in the world, and, whatever may be the faults of that system better the devil we know than the devil we do not know. The first thing in post-war reconstruction that we have to think of, in my opinion, is to give our people employment and to get back the export trade by which we live. And of course we must have housing. To get that it will be necessary to give every assistance possible to firms formerly employed in producing goods for export, in their tasks of changing over from war to peace, and, over and above that, to encourage the siting and setting up of new industries all over the country. I would give that and the provision of houses for the people priority over everything else.


My Lords, arising out of some remarks which were made by my noble friend Lord Selborne in the debate on the 27th May last on the subject of agriculture, the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, has put upon the Paper a Motion which is apparently very anodyne in character He has asked "whether His Majesty's Government propose to establish a system of priorities in regard to plans for reconstruction." Now if the noble Lord's purpose had been merely to seek information, to find out whether there was any further statement which the Government could make upon post-war planning, I do not think that anyone could possibly have complained. As the war progresses it is, obviously, natural that noble Lords, as other Englishmen, Scotsmen and Welshmen, should look into the future, and should wish to know how the minds of the Government are moving. But unfortunately and, if he will forgive me for saying so, I think rather unjustifiably, in the speech with which he has introduced his Motion the noble Lord has gone a good deal further than that. He has suggested—I think it was implicit in his speech, which conveyed the impression to me at any rate as I think it will have done to other noble Lords—that His Majesty's Government are, in fact, at the present time, failing in their duty in that they are neglecting, if not their consideration, at any rate conclusions upon essential problems, and failing to reach decisions which could, in the view of the noble Lord himself, easily be taken.

Such suggestions are not in accordance with the facts, and I feel that they are extremely regrettable because they are liable to shake confidence in an Administration which is composed of all the leading elements of all sections of opinion, including leaders of the noble Lord's own Party—an Administration which is extended to the utmost in facing problems with regard to both the present and the future which are unparalleled in history. I do not think that the British people take so poor a view of His Majesty's Government as does the noble Lord. They realize that the Government have done, and are doing, a good job; that they have mobilized the nation as it has never been mobilized before; that they have ensured, in spite of immense difficulties, that the troops abroad should be provided with munitions of war to enable them to march forward to that victory news of which is daily coming in. Further, they have ensured that the people at home are provided with food and clothing and necessities, and, so far as possible, the amenities of life in difficult times like these. Foreigners who come here—and in this I think I am only echoing what would be said by other noble Lords—go away full of admiration for the even-handed and efficient administration of this country at the present time. I really cannot understand why Lord Nathan should assume that the Government are not facing the problems of the future in that same spirit, and are not applying their full energies to the solution of the post-war problems which are coming upon the world.

The noble Lord spoke in very mellifluous tones, but I do not think that his outlook was the statesmanlike outlook to which we are accustomed in this House. I would remind him of some words which were spoken by the Prime Minister in his broadcast last March. My right honourable friend said: Nothing would be easier for me than to make any number of promises and to get the immediate response of cheap cheers and glowing leading articles. That is exactly what the noble Lord is asking me to do to-day. But I would remind him of some further words spoken by my right honourable friend in the same broadcast. He said: I am absolutely determined not to falsify or mock that confidence"— that is the confidence accorded to him by the nation— by making promises without regard to whether they can be performed or not. That, my Lords, is surely right. Nothing could be more fatal than for His Majesty's Government to paint too rosy a view of our difficulties in order to get a little temporary popularity. There is only one thing to do in dealing with the British people, as the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, would I am sure agree, and that is to tell them the truth, whatever the truth may be. It is only so that any Government will ever get their trust and confidence.

I hope the House will forgive me for speaking with some little warmth, but I feel very strongly on this question. Of course His Majesty's Government accept full responsibility for making all possible arrangements to ensure the future of the ordinary Englishman, that man whom the noble Lord has rechristened "Tom Snooks," whom some other people call, rather offensively I consider, "the Common Man," but whom I and I think most people prefer to call by his old and truer name, "John Bull." But noble Lords in this House have a responsibility too— it is not only the Government that have a responsibility. It will not assist, in my view, the survival of democracy if legislators understate the complexity of the matters with which we are likely to be faced, and give the impression to the electorate that it is quite simple to reach ideal solutions of the terrible problems with which we shall have to deal when hostilities come to an end. I am always full of admiration for my noble friend Lord Addison in that respect. He never attempts to ignore the complexity of these problems, and he faces them frankly and fairly. I would suggest that my noble friend Lord Nathan might well take a lesson from his Leader's book.

The noble Lord enumerated a large number of questions which he suggests are not being energetically tackled. In fact all these questions are being intensively studied, not only by civil servants and experts, but by Committees and Ministers. My noble friend Lord Selborne will bear me out when I say that as much of the time of many responsible Ministers is being taken up by the consideration of problems of demobilization and the postwar problems as is taken up by consideration of problems relating to the conduct of the war. These Ministers sit on these Committees for many hours a weak. They consider these problems day and night. But I certainly would not claim, and I do not intend to do so, that these Ministers, or the Government as a whole, are yet in a position to ask Parliament to decide on detailed schemes on all these questions. Indeed, they are not themselves yet in a position to come to decisions on all of them.

Some problems, of course, are comparatively simple; they are what may be called self-contained problems—problems such as that of education, although even that overlaps on to other domestic issues, as noble Lords know. Others are more difficult, and have immense ramifications, both national and international. Of such a type, I suggest, is the problem of agriculture, out of which this debate arises. That has vast international implications, which have been emphasized on many occasions in your Lordships' House by the noble Lords, Lord Addison, Lord De La Warr and others. To attempt to deal with agriculture in isolation would be utterly futile and greatly to be regretted. As the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, said in the debate to which Lord Nathan has referred, Cabinet Ministers do not yet know enough of what the conditions of 1he post-war world are going to be to be able to form a correct judgment on some of the questions which will have to be answered. That is perfectly true; we are not in a position at present to answer a great many of these questions.

It is no use the noble Lord chanting "We must have a decision now." In many of these cases, in the nature of things there cannot be a decision now; these questions need patient and careful study. The Government have to take account of developments in other countries than our own. These questions must be linked op with a constantly changing war situation, and any solution must be applicable to a post-war situation the exact character of which we do not yet know. The task of allotting priorities as between these various schemes of reconstruction is equally complex. It must take into account the importance of avoiding hardship during the demobilization period; it must take into account the essential need of re-creating normal trade and employment; and it must take into account the practical possibilities of our economic and financial position, to which the noble Earl, Lord Glasgow, so rightly drew attention. These factors are often conflicting in their nature, and they are not easy to harmonize. What is essential —and I am in absolute agreement with Lord Nathan about this—is that preliminary preparatory work should be undertaken; and that in fact is being done.

I am very grateful to the noble Lord for letting me know some of the special points which he intended to raise, and I have tried to get as much information for him as possible, although I know he will not expect an answer on all the points I am in a position, however, to give him a considerable amount of information. Let me take agriculture first of all. I do not intend to go fully into this question this afternoon, because the subject has been recently discussed here, but I should like to say something about one decision which the noble Lord said ought to be made now. "Is British policy," I understood the noble Lord to ask, "to aim at self-sufficiency on the war model, or at world co-operation as advocated by the Hot Springs Conference?" In the first place, this statement as it stands seems to be based upon a misinterpretation of the recommendations of the United Nations Conference on Food and Agriculture as laid down in the Final Act. No one has suggested that this country should be self-sufficient, but the Hot Springs Conference, although it advocated world co-operation, specifically rejected specialization in agricultural production. If the noble Lord will refer to Resolution XV of the Final Act of this Conference, which deals with the principle of agricultural production, he will see that it specifically states that the principles of good farming "can best be assured by balanced mixed rotational farming and by avoidance of single-crop production, or monoculture."

Having made that quite clear, let us see how far the facts support Lord Nathan's argument that a decision is required now, in case the war should be brought to an end in the near future. One fact that stands out quite clearly is that whenever the war in Europe ends, be it this year, next year or the year following, food production in this country will have to be maintained as far as possible at the present high level for some time to come. My right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture dealt with this point in a recent speech, when he said: Even if victory in Europe comes before 1947, the demands for food from our own soil will not abate. Ships will still be needed for other vital purposes. The Japs must still be beaten. The starving peoples of Europe must be fed. Far from there being an easing off, the shoe may pinch even tighter. Whatever fate may have in store for us in the more distant future, the outlook in the next four years is, to my mind, tolerably certain. We must go on producing as much food as we can from our own soil. That is what my right honourable friend said, and he went on to say that he was laying his plans for four years ahead, up to the harvest of 1947.

The Hot Springs Conference also recognized the distinction between the shortterm and the long-term periods. The general shortage of food in the world was very much in their minds, and, as a first step in overcoming that shortage, they recommended that countries that are now producing more than the normal quantity of food should maintain such production, if not increase it still further, in the short-term period. Questions of long-term policy and of transition from the short-term to the long-term programme were also considered by the Conference, but those are matters which will arise later on. The important thing is that for the short-term period—and the Minister of Agriculture has put this period as running until 1947 at the earliest—plans can be laid and are being laid, and no further major decisions of policy arc immediately necessary, although clearly the formulation of long-term policy must continue, and is indeed at present going on.

Then I come to the question of Planning—the Barlow Report, the Scott Report, the Uthwatt Report and so on. With regard to town and country planning, certain decisions, as your Lordships know, have already been taken, and I hope that noble Lords will not forget them. First of all, last winter His Majesty's Government decided to set up a Ministry of Town and Country Planning, and the Minister is already at work at his extremely complex, difficult, and I think rather thankless task. That decision which the Government took at that time marked the Government's agreement in principle to setting up a central body and planning the use of land throughout the country, and it provided machinery for controlling the use of land in accordance with future policy. Secondly, only the other day, as noble Lords will remember, the Government decided to introduce the Town and Country Planning (Interim Development) Bill, which passed through your Lordships' House. The purpose of this Bill, as your Lordships know, was to give the powers which are necessary to enable the new Minister and the local planning authorities to fulfil their duties, and, when it becomes law, the essential framework for future planning policy will, I think, have been set up. Those were two essential and fundamental decisions on which future post-war planning policy must rest.

I will add that the location of industry, which was the subject of the Barlow Report, raises issues of policy which are under consideration by a Committee of Ministers over which the Minister without Portfolio presides. It will be apparent that considerable further investigation is necessary, especially in the light of changed war conditions, to continue the analysis presented by the Royal Commission and to frame concrete proposals to implement their recommendations. On the physical side, preliminary work is necessary for the preparation of plans for the redevelopment of areas of excessive urban concentration and congestion. Such work is proceeding in the Ministry of Town and Country Planning, the Board of Trade and the other Departments concerned.

As regards the protection of agricultural land, the importance of preserving land of high agricultural value is now well recognized, and machinery for securing its protection within the framework of the Government statement of February 11, 1942, has been erected. The Government then said that they would seek to avoid a diversion of productive agricultural land to other purposes if there is unproductive or less productive land which could reasonably be used for those purposes. As regards Compensation—that is the Uthwatt Report, to which the noble Lord also referred—I would assure the House that the Government have never failed to recognize the importance of the question, nor acted on the supposition that a decision upon the policy involved could be postponed for post-war consideration. They have on the contrary been devoting continuous and concentrated attention to it. The future arrangements to be made to secure that land can be acquired without reference to other considerations than the dictates of national and local planning policy raise issues of extreme complexity, and affect, directly or indirectly, every man, woman and child in the country. It is essential that the right decision should be taken; and the Government are handling the problem with a full sense of that responsibility.

Next we pass to Social Security—the Beveridge Report—to which the noble Lord also referred. He gave an impression, I think—certainly to me, and I think to other noble Lords—that the attitude of the Government to the Beveridge Report was negative. I do not know where he got that impression; he certainly has not got it from the speeches of the Government spokesmen. I do not want to prolong indefinitely the speech I have to make, but I must remind the noble Lord of a few brief words which were said by the Home Secretary in the debate in another place. He said: Sir William Beveridge summed up his proposals in 23 suggested changes.… it can be stated that one non-essential change is rejected, six held up for final judgment and 16 are accepted in principle. There were six fundamental principles in the Beveridge Report on which the plan itself is based …. The Government have accepted the whole substance of these, save for one point, the subsistence basis, and while not accepting this in principle, the Government have intimated their aim to fix a benefit for unemployment and ill-health on the same basis as nearly as possible. That was not the impression the noble Lord made in his remarks.


I am extremely unwilling to interrupt the noble Viscount, but these words were what I said. I said that the Beveridge Report includes a "plan for social security for the prevention of want by guaranteeing a subsistence income for every family against every contingency." And I went on to say that "here there is a decision. It has been turned down for the moment." My noble friend, the Leader of the House, has in turn confirmed what I then said. I went no further than to make that statement about their proposals as regards social reform.


I wish the noble Lord had gone a little further, because, if he had gone on and quoted the words of the Home Secretary which I have just quoted— and while not accepting this in principle, the Government have intimated their aim to fix a benefit for unemployment and ill-health on the same basis as nearly as possible"— he would then have made the position clear. He gave me the impression that the whole thing had been completely turned down. It is true that that particular proposal had been turned down, but the Government were hoping to put forward an alternative proposal which would have produced the same effect.


I do not want to prolong the discussion of the point. But this question of subsistence income or no subsistence income is really the central point of the Beveridge Plan, and my view—and I speak not for myself only, but I think for my noble friends also— is that when the subsistence income is rejected, the central feature in this regard of the Beveridge Plan is also rejected.


Well, that is a matter of opinion, upon which we both have a right to our own views. It is true, of course, that practical possibilities have still to be considered, and it is also true that detailed proposals have still to be worked out. They are in fact being worked on now. It is true also that financial aspects must be examined, and I am quite certain the noble Lord would not dispute that, for obviously any Government with a sense of responsibility must go into details and must examine the financial aspect. But I certainly would not accept the view that the attitude of the Government to the Beveridge Report has been a negative one.

I come to housing next. The noble Lord has said that he welcomes the decision of His Majesty's Government—I was glad to hear that—to embark on a ten-year programme, which is to employ one and a quarter million workers on the building of four million houses. But he suggests—anyway he suggested to me— that no real detailed work was being done —or he did not know that any detailed work was being done. Well, at any rate, for all that, detailed work is being done; a great deal of detailed work is being done. Indeed, I have here a very full account of what is being engaged in by the Government at the present time. I rather hesitate to inflict anything further on the House, but I should just like to give some indications at least of the sort of steps that are being taken, because as these suggestions have been made, I think it is only fair to the Government that they should be answered. The Ministry of Health has, in fact, done far more than estimate, as between three and four million, the housing needs for the first ten or twelve years of the peace. First of all, they have submitted detailed estimates of the labour and materials needed for the repair of the war damage, for overtaking arrears of work of ordinary maintenance and repair, and for the new building programme, including the rebuilding of houses destroyed by enemy action. On the basis of these estimates and those of other Departments, the Government will decide what is the number of new houses that can be built in the earlier years of peace.

Secondly, without waiting for a decision on the Barlow, Uthwatt and Scott Reports, the Minister of Health sent a circular to local authorities in March last in which he suggested that there were, in each local government area, sites which, whatever the future local or national plan, are bound to be suitable housing sites. He asked them to decide, in conjunction with the Regional Planning Officer and, where agricultural land is involved, with representatives of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, on sufficient of such sites for a one-year programme. He informed them, with the ready approval, I am glad to be able to tell your Lordships, of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that he was able to sanction the raising of loans for the purpose, and he indicated his willingness to entertain compulsory purchase orders. Further, he requested the authorities to begin immediately after the selection of the sites on the preliminary work of surveying and of preparing the general lay-out, so that it can be further filled in when the manual of post-war house plans and design is issued. He emphasized that local authorities must be ready to go ahead with a substantial programme immediately conditions permit. Up-to-date, replies from 586 local authorities, whose proposals relate to the provision of nearly 130,000 houses, have already been received.

In addition to that, several Committees are hard at work. I do not intend to go fully into their labours, but I would say quite briefly this. There is a Dwellings Design Committee sitting under the noble Earl, Lord Dudley. Their report is expected in the autumn and will cover cottages and flats, not only for ordinary family occupation, but for occupation by special classes, such as old people and single women. Then there is a Rural Housing Committee under Sir Arthur Hobhouse. Then there is a Committee under Sir Felix Pole, which is considering the part which private enterprise can best play after the war. And, finally, there is the Committee under Mr. Silkin, M.P., which is considering policy as regards temporary construction. All these Committees are working in close touch with study groups of the Ministry of Works. There is, finally, the Inter-Departmental Committee under Sir George Burt which has reviewed the various methods of building during the inter-war period and is considering any proposals for new methods that may be suggested.

The Government are fully aware of one problem to which the noble Lord devoted special attention, and that is the dangers and difficulties of the immediate post-war period. Obviously it will be extremely difficult to make available an adequate number of houses immediately after the war. It is inevitable for some considerable time that there will be a shortage of labour and a shortage of materials, and I am afraid I must say quite frankly I do not think there is likely to be any complete solution of this difficulty. There is bound to be a gap, but at any rate the Ministers and the Departments concerned are studying urgently any and every means of bridging that gap as rapidly as can be done. If the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, or any other noble Lord, has in mind any speedy method of doing this, the Burt Committee will be ready and anxious to consider it. If they report that such a plan is worth while, I can assure the noble Lord no one will be better pleased than His Majesty's Government.

There is one other subject on which I shall say one word—it will be very brief —and that is Education. I got the impression that the noble Lord considered nothing adequate was being done in that respect. Perhaps he did not intend to give that impression, but it would be a particularly unfair charge because my right honourable friend the President of the Board of Education has been working for months with assiduity and devotion, and it will be generally agreed with very remarkable success, on the future problems of education. I do not think the Government can be accused of dilatoriness or indecision where education is concerned. In fact, plans for the reconstruction of the educational system are now ready. I will, if your Lordships will allow me, refrain from saying any more to-day because the House will be aware, or at any rate will be glad to hear, that my right honorable friend the President of the Board of Education will be making an announcement about the Government's proposals in another place at, I hope, a very early date.

That is the present position in all these matters to which I have referred so far as it is possible to give it up to date. I apologize most sincerely for taking up so much of your Lordships' time, but I thought it was only fair, in view of what has been said by Lord Nathan, that the House should have the fullest possible information so that it should know that the Government are not quite so supine or so lazy as he appeared to suggest. In point of fact, an immense amount of work is being put in both by Ministers and Departments and, as noble Lords will I hope have seen from my account, good, sure foundations are being laid to the Prime Minister's Four-Year Plan. That work will continue methodically and conscientiously. In due course, as and when possible, plans will be introduced for the approval of Parliament.

In the meantime I would recall to the House the closing words of the Prime Minister's broadcast on March 21. This is what he said: Let us get back to our job. I must warn everyone who hears me of a certain unseemliness and also of the danger of it appearing to the world that we here in Britain are diverting our attention to peace, which is still remote, and to the fruits of victory, which are still to be won, while our Russian Allies are fighting for dear life and dearer honour in the dire, deadly, daily struggle against all the might of the German military machine, and while our thoughts should be with our Armies and with our American and French comrades now engaged in decisive battle in Tunisia. It is Sicily now! We have moved on since then! The Prime Minister ended with these words: Let us wish them Godspeed in their struggle, and let us bend all our efforts to the war and to the ever more vigorous prosecution of our supreme task. That, I believe, if the noble Lord will allow me once more to borrow a phrase from him, is what Snooks really wants.


My Lords, I am sorry this discussion should have taken place with so few to hear what has been said, especially what has been said by the noble Viscount. I know that part of the reason is that another meeting is taking place of some interest and importance at which doubtless both the noble Viscount and I should have wished to be present. Had it not been that our Order Paper is so full for some weeks to come—another indication of the useful public purpose served by the labours of your Lordships' House—I should have wished to postpone this Motion because, despite the way in which, at the beginning of his speech, the noble Viscount was inclined to describe it, this is not a trifling subject nor was it in any spirit: of trifling that I raised it. On the contrary, as the noble Viscount's speech showed, the further it proceeded, it is a subject of great moment, and I consider myself fortunate in having been able to place before the noble Viscount questions which elucidated matters which required elucidation and which it is useful, in the public interest, should be elucidated.

In the early part of his speech the noble Viscount was rather inclined to adopt the well-known habit of certain attorneys— that is, to abuse the opponent's attorney. I have made no attack, and I particularly refrained from making any attack, upon the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, out of whose speech this discussion immediately arose. I felt sure that the impression given by the noble Earl in that speech did not faithfully reflect what, in fact, he had intended to say. My questions to-day were directed to clarifying the position, not to making an attack upon the noble Earl or making any criticism of the Government. I was speaking in a spirit of interrogation and with a view to clearing up any misunderstanding that might have arisen, as indeed had arisen, from the speech to which I have referred.

The noble Viscount mentioned that I indicated to him, in advance, some of the points which I proposed to mention. Let me say at once that I intended, as I hope I made clear in my opening observations, to mention these various matters as indications of the subjects upon which it seemed to me decisions were, or would become, urgently necessary. I had not intended to put upon the noble Viscount the labour of inquiring into and giving your Lordships, at this stage, information falling under each of the headings of the matters to which I referred. But I am grateful to him, and I am sure your Lordships will be grateful, that in the course of one speech he was able to give to the House shortly, yet comprehensively, information which I myself found reassuring and which I am sure will be found reassuring by those who will read what he has said. Indeed the speech that he has made is the justification of the Motion which I placed on the Order Paper and, despite what the noble Viscount said, I submit it is the justification also of the content and manner in which it has been placed before your Lordships' House.

It is no part of my desire to arouse heated controversy but to get, as I think to a large extent we have got, straight answers to specific questions. I am delighted to know that in so many respects the noble Viscount is able to give us so satisfactory a report. I could wish that the information had perhaps been given earlier. Anyhow, we have had it now. We shall look forward to the White Paper which I understand is shortly to be issued with regard to the Education Bill. Whatever the contents of that White Paper may be they will of course have to be most carefully considered and discussed. It is another evidence that a certain stage has been reached in an important piece of work and so far so good. I am not going to traverse the various other headings to which both I and the noble Viscount in his reply have referred. On the whole I think it may fairly be said that there is evidence of real progress being made. That is all I wished to elicit by this debate and to disabuse the public mind from any misunderstanding which it might have, and indeed did have, as a result of the noble Earl's speech as to Ministers having no time to deal with these matters.

Some of them fall within a sphere which cannot be decided without reference to outside affairs. That we all realize. Others fall within a more restricted and domestic sphere and they can be settled by themselves. But my chief interest in these days is he to whom the noble Viscount has referred in all his aspects and relationships. My chief interest is in Tom Snooks at home and at war and I would close on the note upon which the noble Viscount closed. We are all thinking of the valour and, as we confidently hope and believe, the successful outcome of the magnificent exertions of our Armies together with the Dominion and Allied troops in Sicily. Upon them our thoughts and hopes are concentrated. But when the noble Viscount closed with the moving statement of the Prime Minister, to which I would without reservation subscribe, it should be recognized that the situation which will arise immediately the fighting ends is from some standpoints no less part of the war, and in particular from the standpoint of Tom Snooks is scarcely less part of the war, than the actual fighting itself. I make no apologies for having brought this matter before your Lordships' House. I would always give great weight and attach importance to anything the noble Viscount may say as to the manner in which I may bring a matter before your Lordships' House, but having heard his speech and having reflected upon what he said I feel that I have nothing to apologize for to your Lordships' House. I feel that no member of your Lordships' House need apologize if he brings forward a matter in good faith and with the single-minded desire to serve the public interest. I beg leave to withdraw.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

House adjourned.