§ The King's Speech reported by The LORD CHANCELLOR.
§ 2.45 p.m.
§ LORD MORRISON
My Lords, I beg to move that an humble Address be presented to His Majesty to offer the thanks of this House for His Majesty's most gracious address to both Houses of Parliament. I am grateful to my noble friend the Leader of the House for having invited me to move this important Resolution. I understand that it is an old tradition of this House that the mover of it shall not be too enthusiastically controversial. To one who has had a long political experience in another place that is a somewhat difficult task, as many of your Lordships will realize. 6 Before I came to your Lordships' House this morning I read an article in a newspaper deploring the way in which the freedom of the individual is being interfered with. I now come to this House and find that my own freedom, by long tradition, is being interfered with and that I am not at liberty to speak my mind as I would like. However, I will certainly do my best to keep this tradition, although giving no definite promise, since I was brought up in a political school which had two dicta, which may be familiar to many of your Lordships, but which I now find tend to be a little contradictory. The first one was: In Politics, when you see a head, hit it. The second one, in the wise words of John Stuart Mill, was: "The man who only knows one side of the question does not even know that." I will do my best therefore to avoid controversy as much as possible.
Just over a year ago the new Government, elected by the people on a programme which is usually referred to as "Let us face the Future", produced its programme for the first Session of Parliament. I was never quite able to understand why it should be thought that all of us, without exception, should not have to face the future. The difference lies in what kind of a future we are hoping to face. After many strenuous days and sleepless nights in another place, an abnormally large number of Bills came to your Lordships' House. I must admit that the reasonable consideration given to these measures in your Lordships' House, and the alterations made therein appealed to me very much. Indeed, I think that the majority of the Bills which came to your Lordships' House returned to another place in an improved condition.
To-day's gracious Speech from the Throne, to which we have listened, marks the second instalment of "Let us Face the Future." Before I comment upon the several items contained in the Speech I would, with your Lordships' permission, like to make one or two general observations. I have lived all my life in an industrial area, and I still do, amongst a multitude of people who would be insulted if you called them anything but what they are—just ordinary working people. The great majority of them, I must admit, have no very high opinion of your Lordships' House—I have ascertained that since I became a member. At the same time, I respect their 7 opinions and, above all, I admire their sturdy British steadfastness. After six years of war they are harder, but they are fool-proof. Neither stunts, nor scares, nor exaggerations from the one side or the other, from the extreme Right or from the extreme Left, appear to have any effect upon them. They know exactly what their opinions are and they stick to them. They are not to be frightened by any propaganda, as they used to be in olden times. In world problems they decline to follow slavishly either the United States of America or the Soviet Union. They are proud that their own country played no mean part in the war to liberate the world from dictatorship. They have no desire to dominate any other country, but they are equally determined that no other country shall dominate theirs. That is my summary of the kind of people amongst whom I have lived all my life, and amongst whom I still live.
The gracious Speech from the Throne makes reference to something that is in all our minds, the fact that the General Assembly of the United Nations is taking place in New York at the present time. I am perfectly sure that if I do not command absolute agreement with anything else I say, I shall do so when I say that we all wish the British representatives the highest success. Our prayers and our best wishes are that they may be able to take substantial steps towards lasting and enduring peace in this world. I would make only two comments. The first is that we have all got something to learn from one another, and it might be a good idea if some important members of the United Nations Organization were to follow the tradition that I am endeavouring to follow at the present time of not being too enthusiastically controversial. Perhaps we might make more speedy progress towards peace if some of the unnecessarily controversial items were left. I should here say that I do not pretend to be an authority on foreign affairs. I have no wish to become a member of that new organization, which appears to attract an increasing number of members every week, of foreign experts, the qualification for membership of which I understand to be that one must have spent at least one week-end overseas.
8 The second comment I would like to make, and I make it in all due humility, not being a foreign affairs expert, is that it might be a good idea if the United Nations were to spend less time discussing problems of frontiers and matters of that kind, and more time in facing the dreadful fact that a very large number of the people in the world to-day have not got enough food to eat. Until this problem of adequately supplying food, clothing, and shelter to every part of the world is solved there seems to be little hope of real peace.
I welcome the reference in the gracious Speech to the continued friendship between the nations of the British Commonwealth, and of course, that includes the Mother Country. I feel sure your Lordships will join with me in saying how proud and happy we all are to know that their Majesties the King and Queen intend to visit South Africa in the near future with their family. We are grateful that they are going on this great mission of good will. There is no mention at all of Palestine in the King's Speech. I am not surprised, for there is little that can be said or done towards settling that unhappy country's problem until the Jews themselves put an end to the futile and senseless campaign of terrorism and murder being waged by a small minority of their own people who foolishly believe themselves to be at war with Britain. It was evident to every member of the Anglo-Palestine Commission, of whom I was one, that no substantial progress towards a settlement of the Palestine problem could be made until terrorism ceases.
There is a reference in the gracious Speech to India, and on that I will only make one comment. It seems to me that the time may not yet have come for a tribute to be paid to the patience and the wise statesmanship of all who are helping to bring about peace and freedom and independence for India. The time may not yet have come, but when it does come I would ask your Lordships that we should not forget the splendid part played in these negotiations by the Chamber of Princes of India and, in particular, by the Chancellor of the Chamber of Princes, His Highness the Maharajah of Bhopal, who has set an example to the whole world by the way in which he has placed his public duties far in front of his private interests.
9 I need not tell your Lordships that the gracious Speech from the Throne contained two further instalments of nationalization—inland transport and electricity. This is where my task of attempting to be unaggressive becomes almost impossible. I shall be surprised if either of these items is regarded in your Lordships' House as entirely non-contentious or, indeed, is so regarded in another place. Whatever may be the reception given in another place to these two measures of nationalization, I am certain from my brief experience in your Lordships' House that here at least the facts will be faced squarely and the matters will be discussed on their merits without any heat or exaggeration. It seems to me, therefore, that now is a great opportunity once again for your Lordships' House to set an example of avoiding exaggeration and facing the facts. In my view the vital and real test of whether private ownership or nationalization of industry is the better policy for the nation to pursue is to be found in the efficiency with which either method serves the public. I should be prepared myself to come to a decision on that point as to which is the more efficient in service to the public.
Already many speeches are being made and many articles are being written in the newspapers pointing out that the large number of people who become State employees will mean a form of monotonous security, a deficiency of incentive. I read last Sunday the effort of a leading journalistic figure, who wrote a brave article suggesting that nobody ever really did anything except for money. If I were not trying to observe the traditions of your Lordships' House, I should be tempted to reply—and indeed I think I may as well reply to that gentleman—that there is an old saying and a true one that only people with second-class brains ever make a lot of money.
I hope that when the House comes to discuss these two proposals, it will discuss them from the point of view of whether it would not be possible to introduce some form of co-operation or co-operative management which might be so devised as to produce a better incentive for good workmanship and increased production. Of one thing I am certain—and I am sure that your Lordships will agree with me—and that is that the people of this country are determined to have an improved 10 standard of living. I am also equally sure that many of them have not yet fully realized the truth of the simple fact that if any considerable number of people in any class of society take more out of the common pool than they put in, the nation is going to head for serious trouble. I welcome the indication in the gracious Speech that the Government are going to give this problem their attention.
The school-leaving age, we are informed, is going to be raised to fifteen. I do not know whether many people realize that within ten years from now there will only be half the number of juveniles available in this country for employment, as compared with the number available to-day. In mentioning that, I am not suggesting that I am not in favour of raising the school-leaving age, but I think that if we are called on to face the future the public ought to know the facts concerning the repercussions of some of the proposals that are now made.
Again with much daring, I venture to say a word or two about agriculture. I do so as a townsman who has never lived in the country in his life, but as one who has taken part in several agricultural debates in another place. I welcome the promised legislation indicated in His Majesty's Speech. It may be just an idle dream, but I think it would be a very happy day if we could bring about such a state of affairs in this country that the townspeople took more interest in the countryside and in the well-being, generally, of their own land. It was said long ago—if I mistake not, by a member of your Lordships' House—that this country is a nation of week-enders in the matter of agriculture. We grow only enough food to feed ourselves from Friday to Monday and from Monday to Friday we are dependent upon overseas for our food supply. Twice in our lifetime, this policy has brought us to the verge of disaster and defeat in war, and it seems to me that now is the time to lay down surely the foundations of a prosperous agriculture.
I am certain that all members of your Lordships' House, whatever their political opinions, will do their best to try to bring that about. I do not think that it will ever be done by the country people alone—there are not enough of them. It seems to me that it can only be done as a combined operation by town and country. Recently I, myself, had something to do, 11 in a modest way with an experiment in that direction. One or two of your Lordships did me the honour of coming to see it. We had a farm week in the middle of an industrial centre, and it really had an extraordinarily encouraging effect upon the townspeople. I would appeal to the Government—if my poor words can reach them—to consider whether it would not be well to see that, in the coming summer, there should be a farm week in every town in Great Britain.
Finally, and with apologies for taking up so much of your Lordships' time, I would draw attention to the fact that people today—people around me at any rate and probably people around your Lordships also—are unsettled. There is evident a feeling that makes one think that the words of Walt Whitman are at last going to come true: "The Earth restive confronts a new era." People are anxious, anxious about the delay in making peace, anxious about the continuance of conscription so long after the war; and they are puzzled because the Russians are not being so co-operative as they thought they would be, particularly with a Labour Government in this country. All these things are making people anxious, worried and unsettled. They feel that we have all had our fill of wars and that the world is in ruins. I am convinced that this is no time for exaggerating our differences and ignoring our substantial points of agreement. There was an old political doctrine when I first came into Parliament, and it existed long before the time of any of your Lordships, to the effect that the duty of the Opposition is to oppose. I am not sure that that doctrine is not now obsolete. The nation now urgently needs others than obstructionists and oppositionists—if I may coin such a word. We want more builders—not more demolitionists. From my experience in your Lordships' House I know perfectly well that the opposition will be constructive and not merely critical. I apologize for detaining your Lordships so long, but may I close with a charming little couplet of the spirit of which it seems to me the country is very much in need at the present time? It is a couplet on the subject of service:I sought for happiness and happiness eluded me—I turned to service, and happiness found me.12 My Lords, I beg to move that an humble Address be presented to His Majesty as followeth: "Most Gracious Sovereign,—We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the most gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament."
Moved, That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty as followeth:
"Most Gracious Sovereign,—We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the most gracious Speech which Your Majesty had addressed to both Houses of Parliament."—(Lord Morrison.)
§ 3.10 p.m.
§ LORD HOLDEN
My Lords, in seconding the Motion of my noble friend, I am conscious of the honour paid me by having been asked to do so. Yet I hope that, all the same, I may have your Lordships' indulgence on this occasion, which is one of more than usual solemnity. In the gracious Speech, almost at the beginning, reference is made to Germany. If I may, I propose to limit my remarks on Germany to one element only, but it is one which causes myself, and many other people, considerable anxiety. It is the question of the concentration camps for Nazis and other suspected individuals. Like others of your Lordships, I went this summer and inspected one of these camps, and I must say that, although the conditions there were not nearly so bad as they were said in many newspapers to be, yet there were only two officers and six non-commissioned officers to screen some 9,000 individuals, including 800 women. And they had to discover who were too dangerous to be released, and who might be guilty of war crimes. I fully realize the difficulty of securing an adequate and trained staff, and by now matters have been considerably improved. It is obviously undesirable, however, that many thousands of people should be confined to a camp for an indefinite period without trial. I am certain, therefore, that it is the wish of His Majesty's Government and of all your Lordships that those 13 internees should receive justice as soon as is humanly possibe.
The importance of the reference in the gracious Speech to the Assembly of the United Nations now meeting in New York is enhanced by the fact that the question of disarmament has been placed on the agenda by the Soviet delegation. It would seem that the angle at which this will be approached will be under Article 43 of the Charter, under which the United Nations agree to place their Armed Forces at the disposal of U.N.O. when the need may arise. But, as your Lordships know, the first essential is that the Security Council should possess reliable and exact information about the Armed Forces of every member State. One may ask, how can this be obtained? Reliance on national returns must inevitably be unsatisfactory, and I am sure that inspection within every country by a representative of the United Nations must be the foundation-stone of any disarmament agreement. Although I am not a pessimist, I cannot help feeling that as yet we are some way away from that very vital objective, but I would like to think that the discussion of disarmament in U.N.O. may result in a new growth of confidence between the nations.
I do not propose to discuss Common-wealth affairs, which are mentioned in the gracious Speech, but I am sure that we are all delighted to hear of the projected visit to South Africa next year of Their Majesties the King and Queen. The visit would seem to be most opportune, and I know that it will be welcomed by the people in this country, as well as by the people in South Africa. I am sure we would all wish Their Majesties god-speed on their journey.
I would like to refer next to that part of the gracious Speech which deals with the continuation of national service. As a Socialist, I deeply regret that it is necessary to continue conscription in peace-time, but I am absolutely convinced that His Majesty's Government are completely right in doing so in present circumstances. I would like to think, however, that some choice might be given to young men to decide at what point in their careers they can be most usefully called upon to do their national service, so as to interfere as little as possible with their apprenticeship or with the conclusion of their education at technical colleges or universities. I also hope that it will not be necessary to keep these young men under training 14 for more than a year at such an important time in their lives—apart, of course, from what annual training may be considered necessary in the Reserve Forces of the Crown. Many of us here—and I am certainly one of them—hope that when world conditions have improved it will no longer be necessary to keep conscription as a permanent feature in our national life.
The gracious Speech also makes a reference to an adequate flow of volunteers for the Regular Forces. I know that we all regret the comparative lack of success of the recent recruiting campaign, but we cannot be altogether surprised at it. There are two very good reasons for it. The first is a psychological one. After seven years of conscription, and six years of war, the Services have inevitably lost some of their glamour—if they ever possessed it—for our young people. That is quite natural. The second reason is a practical one. In the past, unemployment has been the Army's most compelling recruiting sergeant. Hunger and insecurity have in many cases driven men into the Forces. In the present era of full employment and increasing social equality these two stimulants—fortunately—no longer operate. In concluding my remarks on the Services, may I say this? As one who served in a humble rank as a soldier in one world war, and in the last war as a sailor, I am convinced that much can still be done, and I have no doubt will be done, by His Majesty's Government to make the Services more congenial and democratic, without impairing their efficiency and the spirit of discipline and service which so notably inspired them in the last war.
I do not propose to go into details on the passage in the gracious Speech which refers to food, housing, and clothing, important as these matters are. I would like, however, to say something about clothing, and about one point which may seem small, but which is extremely important. I sincerely hope that it may soon be possible to give a more liberal allowance of woollen clothing to mothers and children. I have a family connexion with the wool trade, and I think the difficulty here is not primarily the wool. As your Lordships know, wool stocks in the world are plentiful, but there is a lack of labour to comb the wool. Recently, I was told of a wool-combing business in Yorkshire—my native county, where I had cause to go the other day—where of 15 500 mill-hands (both men and women) who had been demobilized, and who had returned to that mill, less than half had stayed. I am not blaming them, nor am I blaming the management. I appreciate the difficulties of both sides, and I sympathize with them. Before leaving this point I would express the hope that when woollen goods become less scarce high priority will be given to pregnant mothers and mothers with very small children, because I think that that is extremely important.
To pass to another subject in the gracious Speech, I welcome the reference to proposals to deal with compensation and betterment in relation to town and country planning. A measure for the control of land use was I believe mentioned in the gracious Speech last year, but no doubt owing to the pressure of more urgent business it did not come before Parliament, and one may therefore hope that this Bill will be given a high priority in the Government's legislation in the new Session. I think it is clear that until a measure is passed regulating compensation to those adversely affected by any scheme and the collection of betterment from those who benefit from any scheme, little progress can be made with town and country planning. I therefore very much look forward to His Majesty's Government introducing such a measure.
May I also say how much I welcome the statement in the gracious Speech that the electricity supply industry will be brought under national ownership? I know that this will not surprise your Lordships. This Bill will, of course, after the Coal Bill, mark the second stage of the socialization of the fuel and power industry, and one may assume that a third and later stage, not mentioned in the gracious Speech, will be the nationalization of the gas industry. I feel sure that the Bill mentioned in the gracious Speech will promote a more efficient and economic service of electricity and further advance the co-ordination of the fuel and power industry. I cannot help adding that the nationalization of inland transport is equally welcome and desirable, although it is possible that a measure to effect this may meet with some opposition in your Lordships' House.
To my disappointment there is no mention in the gracious Speech of a 16 Criminal Justice Bill. The war unfortunately prevented the introduction of a measure supported in general by all Parties under the auspices of the then Home Secretary, the noble Viscount, Lord Templewood, I think I am right in saying. I was hoping that the time was now ripe for this or a similar measure to be brought forward. However, I am encouraged to hope that this may still be possible by the penultimate paragraph of the gracious Speech which reads:Other measures will be laid before you if time permits.In conclusion I would mention another matter which is very dear to me and which is not in the gracious Speech. It may be that it would not be appropriate for it to be there, yet I hope it is one which is inherent in the policy of His Majesty's Government. I refer to the active encouragement by the Government of the arts and amenities in this country. I mean not only the protection of beautiful buildings, or the provision of more green belts, desirable as both those things may be, and certainly are, but the improvement and increase of artistic facilities, so that all the arts may be enjoyed by an ever-widening number of people in this country. It is not only in the physical welfare of our countrymen that we ought to be interested, but also in that fuller and happier life which increased leisure and improved education will, I hope, allow them to enjoy more abundantly.
§ 3.25 p.m.
My Lords, before I come to the substance of the gracious Speech which is the subject of our discussion to-day, I should like, if I may, to say one word of very warm congratulation to the mover and seconder of the humble Address for the speeches they have made this afternoon. Theirs is always a difficult task. As the noble Lord, Lord Morrison, himself says, they have to deal with controversial issues in a non-controversial manner. That type of speech can either be very good or it can, I am afraid, be extremely bad. On the present occasion there is no doubt that both the speeches came into the first category of "very good." The noble Lord, Lord Morrison, as we all know, has a very long Parliamentary experience. He was in another place for a great many years, and during those years he won the respect of all in every Party, as he has 17 done here in your Lordships' House, both for his sincerity and his integrity. I do not suppose there were any of us today who were not deeply moved by his stirring and charming tribute to the working people of this country. I felt that he made this afternoon just such a speech, in its directness, humour and robust common sense, as one would have expected of the noble Lord, and I think I Can pay him no higher compliment than that.
The noble Lord, Lord Holden, who followed him, is rather more of a new-comer to politics, but the very thoughtful contribution which he made this afternoon shows, I am sure, how much this House gains by his presence here. I thought—and I am sure the House will agree—that his was not only a transparently sincere but extremely interesting and original speech. If I may be permitted to say so, the noble Lord has been all too silent on the Government Benches during recent months, and I hope we shall hear him again at a very early date.
The debate on the humble Address is always an important Parliamentary occasion. It provides us with an opportunity to review the legislation of the past year and to examine the legislation fore-cast for the year to come. On the present occasion I think it is of especial interest, because, after all, we have just completed the first year of a Government which is pledged to socialize the country, and we now have laid before us, as the noble Lord, Lord Morrison said, the second instalment of this enthralling work. But before I proceed to examine the legislation promised for the coming year, perhaps I might be allowed to say something about what has already transpired during the last Session. It used to be the complaint, as the House will remember, of previous Labour Governments that they were fatally hampered in their task by the lack of a clear majority in Parliament. I am quite certain that noble Lords opposite will not put forward that plea this afternoon. The Party which they represent was not only returned a year ago with a huge majority in another place, but they came into power at a time ideally favourable for the Socialist experiment.
For the previous six years this country had been faced with a peril unprecedented in its long history. Our very existence had been at stake. Practically the whole 18 of Europe had been overrun by our enemies and we had been precariously resisting the unremitting attacks of the greatest military machine in the history of the world. Our position was, indeed, that of a beleaguered fortress in the line of battle, and in that situation, by agreement between all the Parties, we rightly took such measures as were appropriate to our desperate position. We mobilized our whole adult population, both men and women; we brought all production, distribution and consumption under rigid control; we rationed strictly our meagre stocks of food and the necessities of life, and we converted the whole population into an army of defence, quite irrespective of any injury that might be caused to private individuals. All our rights and liberties were temporarily sacrificed to the needs of that supreme emergency.
That was the situation last year when the war came to an end, a General Election was held and the Socialist Party came into power. It must have been a situation beyond the wildest dreams of the most optimistic Socialist. The new Government found a nation rigidly regimented, accustomed to discipline, ration-minded and indeed, largely socialized, and they seized on an opportunity which might never recur to crystallize those measures, which had been taken to meet a desperate emergency, into a permanent social system. No one can acuse them of dilly-dallying. They entered upon their task with energy and, indeed, enthusiasm. Private enterprise, they have always said, was the real enemy of national prosperity; and they started off with a sort of rollicking gusto to eliminate private enterprise in the great key industries and wherever else its malevolent interest might be apparent. As we know, and the Prime Minister himself has boasted of it, an unprecedented number of Bills have been rushed through Parliament. The Bank of England has been nationalized, the coal industry has been nationalized, civil aviation has been nationalized, and each of these measures has been passed through Parliament, and, especially in another place, with the very minimum of discussion. Meanwhile, while the Government were casting their eyes about for new worlds to conquer they passed, as we know, the Supplies and Services (Transitional Powers) Act to maintain the control of war until further instalments of their policy were ready to 19 be put into operation. They did more than that; they multiplied the existing controls so that they might keep a firm grip on all the channels of trade.
I do not for one moment doubt that the Government thought that they were the right thing for the country, and I do not in the least question their patriotic motives. But what has come of it? I cannot believe that up to now the results are quite up to the expectation of those who so trustingly put the Government in power. Coal, we all know, has been nationalized, but as yet there is no sign, at least none that I have seen, of any marked alteration in the attitude of the miners. There is little or no diminution in the figures of voluntary absenteeism, and there is little or no increase in the output of coal. The attitude of the mine workers to their new employer seems to me to be very much the same as it was to their old employers. Or take housing. Limitation of building to local authorities has not, so far as I can see, increased the output of houses as we were led to suppose it would. On the contrary, the figure of permanent house construction for last year is very much the same as the monthly figures before the war. I think the figures are 22,000 permanent houses for the first thirteen months of the new programme, as against 25,000 to 30,000 a month before the war. It would have been even lower than that but for the efforts of the private builder who, in spite of all that is being done to prevent him from putting up houses, insists on lifting his ugly head. The noble Lord, Lord Morrison, said this afternoon that what we need is more builders and less demolitionists. I do hope he will pass on that piece of advice not only to your Lordships but to his colleague, the Minister of Health. Then there is the Bank of England. So far as I can see, the Bank of England is functioning no better and no worse than it did under private ownership. The position is exactly the same, and no benefit has accrued from the change.
The Government have multiplied controls in every direction but, strangely enough, so far as I can see, that has not had much effect either in stimulating energy or increasing enterprise. All that has resulted is an accumulating sense of frustration and discouragement among 20 the more energetic forces of the community. So far as I can see to-day, practically every kind of activity by the private citizen is to-day regarded by the Government as morally wicked unless a divine dispensation is given by the issue of an act of indulgence by some Government Department.
I would just like to mention one little story which came to my notice the other day, and which I have verified. It illustrates, I think, the extraordinary ramifications of the present controls and the futility and loss of time to which they give rise. It is the sad story of a young man with musical ambitions who wanted to buy a recorder, which, as your Lordships probably know, is rather an old-fashioned type of instrument, used in the old days in this country, which is suitable for the beginner on that instrument. The young man went to a maker of musical instruments. The salesman produced the instrument and the buyer produced his purse and prepared to buy. But, said the salesman: "Have you got a licence?" The buyer said: "Do you want a licence to buy a recorder?" "Yes," said the salesman, "you do need a licence to buy a recorder," and he gave the young man the address to which he should go to get the licence. Rather discouraged the buyer went off and spent half a day in finding the office and getting in touch with the civil servant in question. Finally, he got his licence for the recorder. As he was going away, feeling somewhat discouraged and exasperated, he said to the civil servant: "I ask this merely as a point of interest. Have you ever refused to issue a licence for a recorder? "And the civil servant said, "No, never." That is a very small example, but it is quite typical of the unnecessary red tape which to-day clogs the channels of trade and which, so far as I can see, is only effective in providing an occupation for one of the constantly increasing number of civil servants.
There are, I think, many signs that the Government themselves are beginning to recognize that all is not well with the socialist experiment. Last year the whole burden of Government speeches was on nationalization and the elimination of private profit as a cure for all ills. To-day there is far less emphasis upon the virtues of nationalization and far more emphasis upon the necessity for 21 increasing production, which is the subject of so important a paragraph in the gracious Speech which we are discussing this afternoon. Only the other day I read a speech by the Lord President of the Council in which, if I remember rightly, he even said a kind word about private profit. I gather that the boss, whoever he may be—I take it to be the employer—is still to be excluded from full participation in these benefits. Why, I am not quite clear. It is rather like saying that all the body must be nourished except the brain. But, at any rate, I think there are in that speech and other speeches which have been made by Ministers definite signs that the Government themselves are beginning, if I may use a Geneva phrase, to "re-interpret" Socialism. One might have expected that there would have been some indication of this in the King's Speech, but—and I think it is one of the most depressing features of that Speech—any such approach to reality appears to me still to be lamentably absent.
I would not for one moment suggest that there is nothing in the programme of the Government as expressed in the gracious Speech which we, on this side of the House, can approve. It is like the curate's egg, parts of it are good and parts of it are bad. There will be general approval in all parts of the House of those passages which deal with foreign policy. Here, as far as I can understand it, the Government continue to base their policy upon the Charter of the United Nations, and with that I imagine we should all of us be in agreement. Personally I would like to wish them all success in their attempts to build a new world on the basis of international co-operation and mutual understanding. There will also, no doubt, be general support by all Parties for the decision to stimulate voluntary recruitment for the Regular Forces, to reconstitute the Territorial and Reserve Forces at an early date, and to bring forward a measure providing for the continuation of national service. Conscription, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Holden, said this afternoon, has never been popular in this country, and I do not suppose it ever will be; but under present circumstances it is clearly necessary, not only to assure the security of this country but also to enable us to fulfil our obligations under the Charter. Not so very many years ago 22 Collective Security was regarded in some quarters as the alternative to armaments. But if we should have learnt any lesson in the last twenty years I should have thought it would be the lesson that armed force in the hands of peace-loving nations is an essential pre-requisite to collective security. The two go hand in hand. Indeed, as I learnt when I was at the Foreign Office, it is really impossible to have a foreign policy at all without some armed force to back it.
If we welcome the passage which deals with foreign policy, I think we should all equally welcome the passage which deals with inter-Imperial relations. I am glad to think that this aspect of national policy is now universally regarded as being outside the dusty arena of Party politics. We have no Little Englanders here now. We all believe that close and cordial relations between the members of the British Commonwealth are essential not only for the Commonwealth itself but for the world. I should like to join with the noble Lord, Lord Morrison, in warmly welcoming the announcement that Their Majesties the King and Queen are going to South Africa in the new year. Nothing could be of more value in cementing relations between this country and South Africa than that visit.
But the paragraph which deals with the Commonwealth and Empire must, think, be read in conjunction with another paragraph—namely, that which deals with the International Conference upon Trade and Employment. We must all hope that this vital Conference will be crowned with success; but no success could for us justify the severance of the economic ties which bind together the various parts of the British Commonwealth. At the time of the debates upon the American Loan we had the most complete assurances from the Government that any reduction in Imperial Preferences must go hand in hand with comparable reductions in the tariff walls of other countries. I very much hope that when the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, speaks he will find it possible to renew those assurances.
Agriculture is another subject about which I think there are comforting assurances in the gracious Speech. I may appear to be captious on some other matters, but I must say that this is a field of policy in which up to now I believe the Government to have been more successful 23 than in some others, although even there there are certain aspects—perhaps I may instance rural housing as one—in which the position is still deplorable. I do not know what has been the experience of other noble Lords, but I find it quite impossible to get anything done to improve accommodation for the agricultural labourer, or even to maintain the existing standard of accommodation after six years neglect due to the war. This is a subject with which your Lordships' House is specially qualified to deal and I know we shall do our utmost to keep the Government up to the mark.
I do not propose to deal with India to-day. I hope an early occasion will present itself for the discussion of this very vexed question. I would only say this. The Party to which I belong is bound by the Cripps offer and we do not intend to go back on that, but we have watched with increasing anxiety events since that time and we reserve the right to express our views on these developments at an appropriate time.
It is above all when we come to domestic policy that we reach more controversial ground. The Exchange Control Bill, which is foreshadowed in the Speech, must surely come as something of a shock even to a country hardened to controls. I cannot help thinking it is deplorable that such a step should be necessary over a year after the end of the war. The only possible excuse for it would be if our international financial position was so difficult that the Government had no alternative. I do not say that it is so, but if it is, it is surely better that the Government should tell the country so frankly. If indeed we are near the verge of some catastrophe, as the noble, Lord, Lord Brand, said in a recent letter to The Times, then we ought to know the truth. It is not defensible to impose a far-reaching control of this kind without a full and fair explanation to Parliament, and I hope we may hear a little more about this from the Leader of the House or the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, when they speak later in the debate.
Then there is the Compensation and Betterment Bill. This, as I know from my own personal experience in the days of the National Government, is a question of infinite complexity, and one which 24 raises fundamental issues of the most far-reaching character. One can only hope that this Bill, when it is framed, will afford the maximum of justice to all concerned. There are, one might almost say, hundreds of thousands of small men in this country, the thriftiest section of the community, who have invested their savings in houses and land. It is essential that they should be fairly treated in the forthcoming legislation, and that compensation should not be a euphemism for confiscation. I know that this House will wish to examine the Bill most carefully from that angle when it comes before us.
Then there is what seems to me to be a somewhat obscure paragraph in the gracious Speech dealing with the results of inquiries made by working parties appointed by the President of the Board of Trade and indicating that legislation is to be introduced to give effect to their conclusions. When they were appointed I did not understand that these working parties were more than bodies to advise the Minister. I never appreciated personally—nor, I believe, did Parliament—that their conclusions were to be regarded as Holy Writ to be applied immediately. I may have got the wrong impression from the paragraph, but I feel we should have a good deal more information about this than we get from the Speech itself. What are the industries in question, and what is the character of the legislation it is intended to introduce? To put such a paragraph as this into the King's Speech and not to amplify it further seems to me to be calculated only to spread dismay and uncertainty through all the industries which have been the subject of these inquiries.
Next, there is the proposal for the nationalization of the electricity supply industry. I know what I shall be told. I shall be told that this is a public utility and therefore ought to be under public ownership. But there was another criterion which was enunciated by the Lord President of the Council in a well-known speech in regard to this subject, and which was repeated in different words by the noble Lord, Lord Morrison, this afternoon. That criterion is this: It must be shown to be desirable, because of its present inefficiency or for some other good reason, that the industry should be brought under public ownership. In the 25 present case I feel bound to point out that the record of the electricity companies under the hideous conditions of war-time was one of which any country might be proud; and in addition there is this fact which must be borne in mind. I think I am right in saying that within recent years there has been already more than one searching inquiry into conditions in the electricity industry. So far as I know none of those inquiries recommended nationalization. I think, therefore, that it is only fair that we should ask the Government what is the new factor, other than purely doctrinaire political considerations, which has lead them to their present decision? I hope one of the Government spokesmen will deal with this in his reply.
Finally, I come to the nationalization of inland transport. There are, as your Lordships know, others who are far better qualified than I who will speak later in the debate; but I am bound to say at the very outset of our discussion how deeply we on this side of the House deplore this proposal. We dislike it for the very practical reason that in our view inland transport is, of all industries, the least susceptible to a rigid centralized control. This applies in particular to road transport, which is a network of infinite complexity ranging from huge concerns to the little one-man business, interwoven into the most elaborate texture, yet depending largely on individual initiative. In our view to put inland transport—and in particular the type of business I have described—into the strait-jacket of Government ownership must have the effect of destroying initiative and hampering efficiency. What makes it so queer and so tragic is that the Government are doing this at the very moment when they are spurring on the people of this country to further efforts, and paying lip service in their speeches to the principle of private profits and private ownership.
What is the explanation of this strange paradox? I can see one explanation, and one only, and that is that the Government are in effect no longer quite masters in their own house; they are the prisoners of their past. For years and years now they have preached to the people of this country the evils of private enterprise and the importance of getting rid of the private employer. He, the working people have been told, has been swallowing up all the fruits of their work. If 26 he were eliminated—to use a colloquial phrase—all would be roses in the garden; higher wages, shorter hours, everybody richer, everybody happier. That has been said on every Labour platform over the past two or three decades. That is the bait which has been dangled before them to get them to accept Socialism. That is the major inducement which has been produced to secure support for nationalization. Now, when the Labour Party has come into power with a clear majority, those promises have come home to roost. Their supporters, and in particular the trade unions, expect those promises to be redeemed. The Government themselves, as we can see from their speeches, are beginning to find out that the key of prosperity is not, as they have always preached, a mere redistribution of the national income: it is an increase in the national income; and the only road to any greatly enhanced prosperity is a higher standard of production, which means in plain words harder work by all concerned.
But the teaching of the past years has sunk in too deep in the minds of their supporters; and so while Ministers appeal desperately for increased production, the T.U.C. keep their eyes fixed on increased benefits for their members, those benefits which were to flow from Socialism, higher wages, shorter hours and so on. They put the Government into power and now they are insisting on their quid pro quo. What is more, they are becoming more and more determined that it is they and not the Government who shall dictate policy. So far as I can see—and I think other noble Lords will have formed the same impression—they are winning at present all down the line. It is evident; I think, from the events of the last year that the T.U.C. is steadily consolidating and strengthening its power both as against the individual workman and against the Government itself. The measures which have been passed to nationalize key industries have increased the ability of the T.U.C., and of their leaders, to exert direct political pressure on the Government as their employers.
The Trades Disputes Act, and particularly that portion which deals with contracting in and contracting out, and the enforcement of the policy of the closed shop—which the Government appear quite unable to resist or even to make up their mind about at all—will give the 27 trades unions, if they like to use them ruthlessly, almost despotic powers over the individual workman. Industrially, the British workman—noble Lords opposite may not agree with this although it is a growing opinion in this country—to whose instinctive wisdom the noble Lord, Lord Morrison, paid so fine a tribute, is rapidly losing his status as a free and independent citizen. The position will soon come when he will either have to toe the line of the trade union bosses—I use the word the Lord President used—or be refused the right to work at these trades. And what does that mean? It means that the T.U.C. are being built up, before our eyes, into the status of a State within a State. That is a lamentable situation. It is much the most, to my mind, depressing aspect of the proposals which are now before us that the Government are doing nothing to arrest this most dangerous tendency. On the contrary, the nationalization of further key industries is only likely to accelerate the political power of the trade unions.
In that respect, I think one must face the fact that the future in this country is not encouraging. Up to now our main danger has been the increasing power of the State over the individual. Now a new peril appears to be emerging, of a dictatorship of organized labour over the State. And with this increasing power, as I am afraid so often happens, the appetite of the more extreme leaders of the T.U.C. will grow. They will, aspire to take the place of Parliament as directors of policy, not merely of industrial policy but of national policy as a whole. There was, I thought, an extremely illuminating remark made by a Labour member during the debate on the Trades Disputes Bill in another place. I quote from The Times of February 27. This Member said thathe did not accept the Attorney-General's definition with regard to the difference between a sympathetic strike and a so-called general or political strike. He could envisage circumstances which might justify or necessitate a strike even against the Government of the day. Such things, for example, as a change of Government or a declaration of war against Russia might justify a stoppage of work.That, I think noble Lords will agree, is a profoundly shocking statement. Of course nobody wants to declare war on Russia. We all hope for friendly co-operation 28 between Russia and ourselves. But the final decision as to the policy of this country towards all foreign nations is a matter for Parliament and not for any outside body.
The other eventuality justifying, in the mind of the honourable Member, a general strike is, I think, still more disturbing. What he really says, and he does not blink his words, is this: if the country were to choose a Government of which the Trades Union Congress did not approve, the Trades Union Congress should take steps by direct action to compel the country to reverse its decision. What does that mean, in plain words? It means a minority dictatorship; it means the complete abrogation of that principle of majority rule which has governed this country ever since the end of the eighteenth century. It means an end of all we mean by Parliamentary democracy.
I have lately been reading a book by that great historian, Professor George Trevelyan, on the Revolutionary Settlement of 1689, which is the basis of so many of our most cherished liberties. I strongly recommend that book to your Lordships, and, if I may do so without impertinence, especially to members of the Government. It seems to me to have a considerable application to what is happening in this country at the present time. That revolution was known as "the Glorious Revolution." And why was it called the glorious revolution? This is what Professor Trevelyan says:It came not to overthrow the law, but to confirm it. It came not to coerce people into one pattern of opinion in politics or religion but to give them freedom under and by the law. It was at once liberal and conservative; most revolutions are neither one nor the other but overthrow the laws, and then tolerate no way of thinking save one.How pertinent is that to our present situation to-day!
We are constantly told we are in the midst of another social revolution. I hope very much it will not go down in history as the "inglorious revolution." It certainly bids fair to undo much of the good which was achieved by the settlement of 1689, on which our greatness has stood for 250 years. To-day all those great principles of freedom of conscience and freedom of political opinion are steadily being Whittled down. It may well be—and it is no good disguising the fact—that we may be returning to an era of sectional domination. 29 Not the domination as it was in 1689 but another more dangerous than that could possibly be. It would be a very sad thing if uninstructed democracy, which is the ultimate result of that settlement, contained in itself the seeds of its own dissolution.
I know I shall be told by the noble Lord who replies for the Government that I am an alarmist, that I am a scaremonger, and that I am what used to be known before the war as a jitterbug. I used to be told that before the war at a time when did not agree with the foreign policy of my own Party, and I remember at that time saying to my constituents that there is something worse than being a jitterbug, and that is being a humbug; and that is what I think noble Lords opposite are. They are humbugs. They are not humbugging the House and I do not think they are humbugging the country; but they are certainly humbugging themselves. I cannot help remarking, as I look at the Government Benches opposite, how many of the noble Lords were brought up in the Liberal tradition. There are the noble Lord, the Leader of the House; the noble and learned Lord Chancellor; the noble Lord, Lord Holden, who spoke to us this afternoon; and the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, who was so lately on the Front Bench. Yet now all these noble Lords seem to acquiesce, without a protest of any kind, in social and political tendencies which are the very antithesis of those liberal principles on which they were brought up.
My main complaint, and this is practically the last thing I want to say as to the broad policy of the Speech we are discussing, is that it is taking us still further down that slippery slope towards sectional or minority dictatorship, the One-Party system, and all we fought against in the war. These are tendencies which one does not recognize immediately. They are apt to happen gradually until the process has gone too far for it to be stopped.
So far as the actual proposals in the Speech are concerned, I have no doubt at all as to the attitude which noble Lords on this side of the House will take to them. We shall indulge in no factious opposition. We shall give these proposals full and fair consideration. Our object will not be to thwart the will of the people 30 where indeed that has been expressed at the General Election. Our object will be to amend and improve legislation to make it more practicable and more fair to all sections of the population. I believe we have done a good job in the last year of Parliament. We shall continue to do that job. But we cannot ignore the rocks that lie ahead.
I do hope your Lordships will not think I have been irrelevant if, on this the first day of a new Session, I have ventured to draw attention to certain coming dangers, as I see them. The Government have a great responsibility at the present time. They are the trustees of our liberties. To me, the worst part of the gracious Speech is not what it contains, but what it does not contain; and above all, that we can have no certitude from the Speech that the rights and liberties of the British people will be maintained. I gravely fear that if the nettle is not grasped soon, the position will steadily deteriorate, and may deteriorate beyond repair. I would therefore appeal most earnestly to the Government to face up to this most vital problem in the year which is now beginning. For on their wisdom and on their courage may well depend the survival of free institutions in this country for many generations to come.
§ 4.7 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
My Lords, my first words obviously must be words of thanks on behalf of my noble friends on these Benches to the noble Viscount who has just spoken for the tribute which he paid in one of his concluding sentences to the traditions, the principles, and the policies of Liberalism. I gathered from the remarks he made when he spoke of the noble Lords now belonging to the Labour Party who had been trained as Liberals, that he regards this tradition as the very essence of political virtue and wisdom.
I quoted Professor George Trevelyan's words that the settlement of 1689 was both liberal and conservative.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
I think the noble Lord did not say they were brought up at all in the Conservative tradition but, on the contrary, were well trained in Liberalism, and they moved further to the Left. I should not venture to make such a claim, expressed in the words 31 used by the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne; but who am I to suggest that those words are not true? I would join with him in expressing our congratulations and the congratulations of your Lordships' House to the noble Lords who proposed and seconded the Address to the Throne. Lord Morrison gave us a speech very acceptable to the House, full of sweet reasonableness, savoured with humour. He would have us believe he was speaking with an almost uncontrollable sense of restraint, that if it had been left to his natural instincts he would have made an embittered attack upon those favouring different principles from his own. But I could observe no sign that he was suffering from that distressing malady, suppressed jaundice. On the contrary, he said so many kind things about your Lordships' House, as the result of his comparatively short experience in our midst, that I am afraid that to-morrow he will find himself warned by many of his Socialist friends that he is in danger of becoming a victim of what I believe they call the "aristocratic embrace."
Lord Holden, who seconded, gave us a broad and interesting survey of the many themes embodied in the gracious Speech from the Throne. His speech was marked by obvious political sincerity and by wide knowledge both of industry and of the Services. I would re-echo the words of the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition, that we shall hope to hear him more often in the future than hitherto. For my own part I would say that I would especially like to hear him again on that subject which is obviously very near his own heart, the importance of greater attention than hitherto being given by the State to those cultural, as distinct from the material, elements in our social life which are of such profound importance to the population. Both the mover and the seconder have passed through their ordeal—for it is always something of an ordeal—not only unscathed but with greatly added repute.
With respect to the programme embodied in the King's Speech, on the domestic side, there are several measures relating to the nationalization of industries, but one which has attracted the most attention is one that is conspicuous by its absence—namely, a measure with reference 32 to the iron and steel industry. That, personally, I do not regret, for the Liberal Party has, from the beginning, when this matter was mooted, both before the General Election and since, in Parliament and in the country, urged that this proposal of nationalization is probably the most questionable of any of those put forward by the Government and might prove to be the most dangerous. The organization of the iron and steel industry, no doubt, has many defects and I am far from saying that measures should not be taken for its improvement. But I say that only after most careful inquiry and investigation, such as has not yet been held, ought we to come to the conclusion that nationalization is the best way of dealing with these problems. This proposal of State control of the iron and steel industry came before the country with a great fanfare of trumpets played fortissimo. Gradually we have had more of an aria diminuendo, and, at the present time, the music is piano and is gradually fading away. Perhaps, we shall come to some plaintive little tune on the flutes as a finale, and then perhaps hear no more of it.
Another Bill which I regret is not mentioned in the King's Speech is the one to which reference has been made by Lord Holden—the Criminal Justice Bill. That is a Bill that is already long overdue. By next Session, it will be nearly ten years since this measure was first introduced by my noble friend Lord Templewood, then Sir Samuel Hoare, to receive a very widespread measure of public approval. But the time is beginning to pass when this country should undertake an overhaul on its system of penal law, and it would be a melancholy thing if next year, at all events, this Bill does not have one of the first places in the programme for the Parliamentary Session. There is one less important measure which is not mentioned in the Speech, possibly because it is of the second order. My noble friend the Marquess of Reading will, I think, deal with it more fully in his speech to-morrow and I shall only refer to it briefly in passing—I mean the Bill to deal with the exemption of the Crown from certain legal proceedings. But it may be that this measure is one of those which is in view according to the last paragraph in the speech which reads: "Other measures will be laid before you if time permits." 33 If humour had a place in so august a document, considering the long list of measures which have a place in the Speech I should have thought that that expression might be regarded as humorous. But it may be that there will be time found for some comparatively smaller Bills, and, if that is so, I trust that this one which I have just mentioned will be one of them.
To one measure I would give a most cordial welcome; that is the Planning Bill dealing with land acquisition, compensation and betterment. In that matter, the Coalition Government failed very badly. They tried several times, they put forward various proposals none of which made any headway. It was, in fact, one may say, the greatest failure of that Government in a matter of the first importance. It undoubtedly is a matter of the first importance, for the environment of the people in our nineteenth century industrial towns is a great disgrace. It is, in all countries, the worst aspect of the physical side of our modern civilization, and in this island, which we hold in such pride and affection, it is a very shameful blot. The replanning of our towns is being held up at this moment—a moment of unparalleled opportunity for restoration in view of the destruction caused by the war—by the failure of the previous Government to provide, beforehand, the measures to deal with the fundamental questions of land acquisition, betterment and compensation. Whatever else in the course of the coming months may have to be dropped from the Government's programme this year, I sincerely hope that no pressure of time will cause this particular Bill to miscarry.
Another measure of first importance and one which I think will interest all sections of your Lordships' House is the Bill to promote the efficiency and prosperity of agriculture. It will, no doubt, follow lines that have been proclaimed, and, presumably, agreed, and I trust it will receive a speedy passage through Parliament for it deals with a national industry second to none in importance.
I do not propose to go through the other Bills seriatim because I think that little useful purpose is served by a few necessarily perfunctory sentences devoted to each. I would rather reserve for a more considered statement the opinions held on these Benches with regard to these other proposals that are to be introduced, when we have full knowledge of what their 34 character is. Furthermore, I will say nothing about the domestic programme, but will turn to the foreign aspect, because our home policy depends so much upon the world situation. In these days, internal politics are conditioned absolutely by international politics. In this connexion by general consent the most important matter is the United Nations Organization and its success. All the future depends upon that. The control of atomic energy alone is absolutely vital to international friendship and good will, and that is only one of a score of matters of the first importance which come within the cognizance of the United Nations. All the more disappointing therefore were the proceedings and the results of the discussions in London and in Paris, although certainly in the end some useful results were, in fact, achieved. But I think that throughout the world there was a deep feeling of disappointment at the tone and nature of the deliberations of these supremely important assemblies.
And we can most of us say with sincerity that we believe that if Russia had from the beginning adopted a different attitude, all this would have been different—that the political atmosphere throughout the world would have been less cloudy than it now is. During the London Conference, when things were moving exceedingly slowly, week after week, some jester declared that it was believed that whenever some move did appear to be about to be taken Mr. Molotov would telegraph to Moscow for "fresh obstructions." We can be glad that our own Foreign Secretary, Mr. Bevin, has not yielded to the temptation to reply in kind. He has not been stampeded into forming or joining any anti-Soviet combination, and this policy has proved fruitful, for the Russian attitude at this Conference has received no support from any quarter outside the Slav group. Russia finds herself to-day in an isolation which is more dangerous than any strategic or diplomatic isolation; she finds herself in a state of moral isolation from mankind at large.
More recently, happily, a change has become apparent. Perhaps it is for the reason that those in charge of Russian affairs realize the danger of such a situation as that which I have just described. Mr. Stalin's recent pronouncement has been unhesitatingly welcomed in all countries and by all classes of people, and the fact that the Soviet delegation at the New 35 York Conference now in session have themselves put down on the agenda a motion for an all-round disarmament has been universally welcomed. That initiative is of the greatest importance, and we must all hope that good results will come from it.
In the meantime, the United Nations are struggling patiently to disentangle all the difficulties that surround their progress. Peace is being brought about, rightly, by successive stages. The stages follow one another very slowly. The most unsatisfactory feature of all is the fact that the central problem of Germany has hardly begun to be tackled. We have not yet reached even the preliminaries for the beginning of a negotiation on a peace with Germany. Present conditions in Germany were debated in your Lordships' House only a week ago, on the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun. Powerful speeches were made by the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, the noble Lord, Lord Lindsay, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chichester, as well as by other leading members from all quarters of your Lordships' House. They all spoke in the same sense. I will not repeat the substance of their remarks, for they will be fresh in the memory of the House. All speakers paid tribute to the good intentions of the heads of the British Administration in our zone in Germany, but they all stated that they were set to accomplish their task under impossible conditions. The noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, who on this occasion replied for the Government—and whose speeches are usually so effective in your Lordships' House and have even been known to convert opposition into support—gave a reply which I think left the House entirely dissatisfied, because the facts were against him and he had not the material given to him to enable him to make a more adequate reply.
During the ten years that I have had the honour to be a member of your Lordships' House I have observed, whenever there is a debate in which speeches are made from every quarter of the House in the same direction, all asking for the same thing, and when the only speech to the contrary is from the Government Bench, and the answer then given is generally felt to be unsatisfactory—or worse—that, in the event, this House has been proved 36 to be right. It is likely to prove the same on this matter of the administration of the British zone in Germany. It is easy to blame extraneous causes. It is said, no doubt, that the administrators of our zone are handicapped by failure to achieve an economic unification of Germany and that temporary events, such as the shipping dispute in the United States, have caused difficulties in the appeals for food; there is also, it may be said, this world food shortage. No doubt these factors have contributed to the difficulties, but the suspicion has been aroused that they are not the only reasons. It may be that there is a lack of efficient direction at the centre, and that what is needed, above all, is the appointment of a Minister of strong will and the highest administrative capacity who will have control of all these matters, not from London but from headquarters in Germany itself, and who will receive the active backing of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet.
It is hard for us, or for any legislative assembly, to judge these matters, because we have not all the information which is at the disposal of the Government. We are obliged to judge by results; and perhaps in doing so we may do some injustice to individuals. In this case the fact remains that, so far, the result has been to a very large degree one of failure. The nation is dissatisfied and disturbed, and the reputation of this country in the eyes of the world has suffered. I would make a very earnest appeal to the Government to give priority to the consideration of this matter, and to the efficient organization of the British zone in Germany, in order that matters shall be put on a better footing.
Meanwhile, here in this country an immense, number of German prisoners of war are still detained. This matter has been debated in your Lordships' House on more than one occasion. I myself have taken part in those debates, but very little progress is being made in the handling of this question. The Government made their pronouncement not long ago, and they stated that one factor in their consideration of the fate of the German prisoners was the valuable service which they were rendering to British agriculture. No doubt that consideration was present in their mind, but I should like to know what provision of International Law allows any such consideration to be taken into account. The 37 Geneva Convention does not authorize anyone to be detained against his will as a prisoner, merely for the reason that his labour is of service to the country in which he is detained. Indeed, the Geneva Convention makes no provision whatever for the present situation which is, in effect, that the war has ended but the peace has not yet begun.
During that interval—which may possibly last for years—these men are technically, no doubt, prisoners of war, and can be detained as such. No international court would hold that an offence had been committed against International Law, but I venture to submit that morally they ought not to be detained, and that in the present circumstances there is no justification for our doing so. It is true that they have not been kidnapped (as the Germans kidnapped labour from surrounding countries, and established a system of slave labour which we all deplored so bitterly and which has disgraced them so much), but if these men are not willing to stay, and want to go home, I submit that there is no justification for the present situation, except where there are some individuals who may be definitely known to be dangerous Nazis and who ought not to be sent to Germany during the occupation for reasons of security. With regard to food supplies, these hundreds of thousands of men have to be fed, wherever they are, whether here or in Germany. Therefore, that consideration is not the governing one. Let me repeat that if any of them are willing to stay, and if they are paid proper wages for their labour, there can be no objection to their being kept here for the sake of their work; otherwise, considering that negotiations for a peace treaty with Germany have not even yet begun, they ought to be released.
I observed a paragraph in The Times a month ago which mentioned that Cardinal Frings, the Archbishop of Cologne, had paid a tribute in a pastoral letter to the treatment of German prisoners of war in Britain, where he recently toured prisoners' camps; but he addressed a vast congregation in Westminster Cathedral in London appealing for the freeing of German war prisoners; and he himself visited the Control Office for Germany, where he presented a petition signed by 10,000,000 German women pleading for the release of the 38 prisoners. At the present moment in this matter the British Government are morally in a false position, and, except for these classes that I have mentioned, it would be right that they should send home all the prisoners in this country, not in a matter of months or of years, but at once.
One paragraph in the Speech from the Throne mentions Austria, and that paragraph is particularly welcome to those of us on these Benches—especially so perhaps to my noble friend the Earl of Perth—who have repeatedly urged a speedy cessation of the occupation of Austria and the establishment of her full independence and self-government. The Speech from the Throne gives great prominence to a paragraph which forecasts an early treaty with Austria and the ending of the occupation. We all hope that will in fact be speedily implemented, and we trust that it will not be long before our troops are withdrawn from other countries where they now are, particularly from Greece.
Here I may perhaps be allowed to say incidentally that I think the criticisms to which the Government have been subjected from some quarters of the Left with regard to their relations with the present Government of Greece are quite uncalled for and unjustified. The recent elections in Greece were held under conditions which impartial observers held to have been fair and reasonable, and it is, of course, the duty of the Government to honour the decision of the Greek people at that election resulting in a monarchy, as it did, just as they would have honoured it if it had resulted in a Government of the Left. I trust that public opinion and the organs of public opinion in this country will not harass the Government of Greece in their efforts to establish stability and good government in that country, seeing that they are where they are as a result of a very definite decision by a very large vote from the electorate of that country.
Japan is briefly mentioned in the King's Speech, in little more than a formal reference, and perhaps that is all that could be said at the present time in such a document. But, as a matter of fact, events of very great importance have taken place quite recently in Japan to which strangely little attention has been given in this country, or apparently 39 in other countries as well. A new Constitution has actually been brought into force establishing a wide system of self-government, eliminating military elements from power, and a formal national renunciation of militarist policy has taken place. No doubt there may be some scepticism, and perhaps legitimate scepticism, as to the sincerity of such declarations, and it will be some time before events prove whether or not the Japanese people intend to live up to them; but, at the same time, it is unjust to assume beforehand that these declarations are necessarily insincere, and we should rather express the hope that they will be honestly acted upon as a first step to the entry of that great country into the comity of nations.
In two other countries—one very small and the other very large—there are at this moment grave and serious troubles. One is Palestine. I shall not enter into matters which would be more appropriate for a separate debate if at some period a debate proves to be opportune and expedient. I would only express the personal view that the right policy would have been to have accepted the unanimous report of the Anglo-American Committee, one of whose members we have heard with pleasure here to-day. A great error was committed by the Government in not at once declaring themselves in favour of their proposals. They were proposals joined in by the American as well as by the British delegation; they were arrived at unanimously; they were reached after the most careful investigation of all the elements of the case. To me, with very considerable experience in Palestine in the early stages and having kept in contact with it more lately, they seem to have been exactly on the right lines. I am glad, however, that the Government have not allowed themselves to be deterred by a hateful and insane campaign of terrorism from nevertheless proceeding to try to find a solution of the difficult Palestine problem.
With regard to India, there again great events have taken place. A new Government has, in fact, been set up under a Hindu leader, but with the co-operation of the Moslem League, attained with great difficulty and after prolonged negotiations, and I am sure that the noble Lord, the Secretary of State for India, and his colleagues who went with him to India—a 40 very arduous journey—must feel very gratified that this step in advance has been undertaken. With the leadership of Pandit Nehru authority has been given to the one outstanding personality in India on whom so onerous a task could have been devolved. Gradually, one by one, stage by stage, these mighty problems, so complex, so difficult, may find their solution, and so the world may emerge from this time of storm and stress into those happy conditions of calm and stability that the masses of mankind in all countries so passionately desire.
§ 4.37 p.m.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR DOMINION AFFAIRS (VISCOUNT ADDISON)
My Lords, I should like at the beginning of my remarks to associate myself with what the noble Viscount on the Front Bench opposite and the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, have said in paying tribute to the speeches of my noble friends behind me, in moving and seconding the Address. I feel sure we all welcome the independence of thought and expression which marked both their speeches. It is a feature of this House, and I think one for which it is deservedly distinguished, that, notwithstanding political affiliations, there is a disposition quite commonly displayed for members to say what is in their hearts rather than what they think other people would like them to say. That characteristic was very prominent in the speeches of both my noble friends, and I should like to associate myself without reserve with what was said by the noble Lords who have just preceded me.
Before coming to the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, may I thank the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, for what he said in his review of the anxious, difficult and bewildering problems of foreign affairs and for the sympathetic way in which he dealt with our difficulties, as also for what I think I can safely call the very friendly disposition towards the manner in which His Majesty's Government is trying to deal with most of them. But if the noble Viscount will forgive me for deferring it, I do not propose to-day to follow him in what he said in regard to the German situation. Nobody knows better than we do how unsatisfactory that situation is, and I do not wonder that the noble Viscount did not find much comfort in my noble friend's speech the other day. 41 It was, however, a truthful speech. We none of us can find much comfort in the sad situation there. As a first step, I sincerely hope that the negotiations that are now in progress with regard to the pooling of foodstuffs between the American zone and our own will be successful. If they are that will remove, at all events for a considerable time to come, a very grave danger. But I am quite sure there will be opportunities before long, which will be arrived at by agreement, for discussing these issues in more detail. I trust therefore that the noble Viscount will forgive me if I pass from them this afternoon.
I now come to the speech of the noble Viscount the Leader of the Party opposite, which was quite like old times. I felt immense interest in the noble Viscount's speech, especially in its display of his own generous mind. He, at all events, did not express surprise that a Socialist Government wanted to carry out a Socialist programme. I was glad that the noble Viscount went as far as that. Some people seem to regard it rather as a grievance that a Government elected on the pledges on which this Government was elected should seriously try to give effect to them. But while the noble Viscount was not surprised about this, I did notice, shall I say, the growing crescendo of gloom with which he regarded the situation and with which he dealt in considerable detail in his concluding observations. I will come to them one by one, if I may.
The noble Viscount said that the Government came into power in circumstances peculiarly favourable to socialistic enterprises. I entirely agree with him; it did. He said it must have been almost beyond the wildest hopes of any one of us that an opportunity so favourable, shall I say, to practical socialism should have occurred. But what a horrible state of affairs it was that provided that opportunity! I would beg the noble Viscount some time in his quiet moments by himself, to ask himself, if these drastic socialistic powers to which he referred were necessary in that time of danger, how it happens that they should necessarily be harmful if they are continued thereafter. Some of them turned out to be exceedingly useful; some of them turned out to be vital to the maintenance of our national life; and it may perhaps be true that measures 42 that are valuable and necessary in facing the dangers of war may also be valuable and necessary in facing the dangers of peace. At all events, it does not necessarily follow that because they were useful in war they will not be useful in peace. Therefore, if I may say so with respect, I suggest that that reflection is worth a little further meditation on the part of the noble Viscount.
The noble Viscount then referred—and I am taking some of the smaller points first—to the progress in the erection of houses, and he animadverted upon the small share that was given to private enterprise in building houses. It was my misfortune after the last war to be connected with this business of housing, as noble Lords are well aware, and I have asked the department to provide me with some figures of a comparable kind. The noble Viscount said that in a certain month before the war there were so many houses built by private enterprise. I can give him the actual number. In 1938 there were 252,000 houses built by private enterprise. But what has that got to do with it? That was twenty years after the end of the first world war, and the scarcities of the war at that time with regard to light castings, timber, bricks, and all the rest of it, had happily been overcome. Let us just look at what private enterprise did at the end of the last war, when this particular grievance was not raised. I notice that private enterprise after the end of the last war, which is the comparable period, built only 73,000 houses in four years. At the present time, under the "restrictive" acts of my right honourable friend the Minister of Health, they have already completed or are building 51,803 houses. That is within eighteen months, and in those days they only built 73,000 houses in four years.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
No! It shows how much more wide-minded and efficient are our methods. It shows that we are getting on much better. Notwithstanding the animadversions of the noble Viscount and his friends, private enterprise is doing better under my right honourable friend than it did after the last war under a Conservative administration. I really think the noble Viscount's reflections upon 43 my right honourable friend's partiality as manifested against private enterprise, are completely unfounded, particularly if your comparison is with a comparable period after the last war. Private enterprise is doing much better now than it did then. So far as the provision of houses by local authorities is concerned—and I agree with the noble Viscount that we would all like to see much more done in rural areas—up to the present, built and building, permanent and temporary, there are 282, 324 houses altogether. I think that is a remarkably good beginning, considering that it is little more than a year since the war ended. So far as that is concerned, in my view, the noble Viscount has not much to complain about.
The noble Viscount then went through a list of some of the achievements of last year, and he did not think we could point to much benefit arising from them. I will refer to one or two. The first is the nationalization of the Bank of England. It never was claimed by any of us that overt manifest benefits would arise, but it does put into the hands of the Government what we wanted—the increased ability to manage our finances in the interests of the whole country. I think that the success of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in keeping down interest rates—and the Bank of England must have had a share in providing the machinery—is a very noteworthy achievement and something for which we may take credit.
The noble Viscount has asked me for assurances with regard to the Conference on Trade and Employment. I can give him those without reserve. We have had Dominion representatives in London for some time past, and as a matter of fact I think they are still here. I should like to say that the assurances we gave with regard to our not being willing, either with them or individually, to make sacrifices unless a fully equivalent benefit is received in return still hold good. The conferences which have been held in London have not been dealing with Preferences but with other sides of trade and commerce, and I am glad to say that they have revealed between the Mother Country and the other Commonwealth nations a most gratifying measure of unanimity.
With regard to the Exchange Control Bill, the noble Viscount asks that there 44 should be a full and fair explanation. I can assure him that that explanation will certainly be forthcoming in due time. He said it was a shock to him, and I am sorry for that; but the shock surely must be wearing off a bit because exchange control is what has been happening to us for six years. We are getting quite used to it, as a matter of fact. Exchange control was exercised all through the war and is being exercised to this day. What I think shocked the noble Lord was that we were proposing to continue these powers into the years of peace. We have in our minds what happened in 1931 and 1932; we know what this country lost because there was not sufficient power in the hands of the State to control these matters. This Government have no intention whatever of being caught napping in that respect. This very important Bill will be designed to secure those powers for the State over matters relating to exchange and the movement of money which are absolutely necessary in order to maintain in this country a policy of full employment.
The noble Lord is as a rule extra-ordinarily accurate but he made one slip when he was talking about inland transport and deploring the proposals which will come along. Very rightly, he gave us credit for consistency in this respect. These proposals have been in the programme of the Labour Party for a long time and I am sure he will treat them with that fairness which characterizes his actions at all times. The thing he forgot was that the present leader of the Conservative Party proposed to nationalize the railways himself 20 years ago. I would suggest that he looks up Mr. Churchill's—shall we say?—rash adventure into railway nationalization at the end of the last war. He it was who was the protagonist of the nationalization of the railways! The noble Viscount might perhaps have a word with him quietly about it when they come to frame their denunciations of the Government proposals.
Then the noble Lord asked me about "working parties." I was rather surprised that he was uneasy about these working parties, because all Parties, including his own, are quite sympathetic to them. They are parties consisting of trade union representatives, employers' representatives and departmental representatives which have been inquiring into 45 the difficulties and the conditions of various industries. He asked me what reports had been received. Reports have been received from the working parties on the cotton, footwear, hosiery and pottery industries. Reports are expected from a number of others—wool, linoleum, furniture, lace, domestic glass, carpets, cutlery, jute and china clay.
Are we to understand that legislation is to be introduced with regard to the first four which the noble Viscount mentioned?
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
The noble Viscount—and I quote his words—wanted to know whether their conclusions were to be regarded as "Holy Writ to be given effect to forthwith." To that, my answer is in the negative. But where they make proposals for the improvement of their industries which appear to the Government to be good proposals, we shall seek to give effect to them. That is what it comes down to! I should have thought myself that there was no more practical or sensible way of arriving at an assessment of the needs of an industry than to have a working party consisting of trade unionists, employers and experienced administrators putting their heads together to say "What can we do to improve that industry?". If their proposals are good ones and we accept them, surely we are only behaving like ordinary sensible people. That is the reply to that particular question. I am sure there is nothing to be worried about on that score.
Now I come to the gravamen of the noble Viscount's charge and the real source of all his uneasiness. The noble Viscount seems to think that the Trades Union Congress is becoming more and more determined that it shall direct policy, because the Government consults them. The Government does. But so did his Government! And it is quite right to do so, and we should be very foolish if we did not. Let us look at this matter for a few moments in the light of history. During the war a tripartite machine was set up—all noble Lords on that bench opposite must know everything about it—consisting of the Government, the trade unions and the employers in different industries. A joint consultative committee for each principal industry assisted the Minister of Labour and was consulted on all matters affecting their particular industry. These joint consultative committees 46 were consulted all through the war; they are being consulted now, and they will continue to be consulted on all matters affecting their particular industries.
Just let me tell the House what the present Chairman of the Conservative Party, Lord Woolton, did. He set up, not a joint committee, but a trade union committee pure and simple—a committee appointed by the Trades Union Congress. They were consulted by him on matters affecting applications for increased rations of meat, cheese, clothing, overalls and all the rest of it. The applications to the Minister of Food—and the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, will know all about this—were remitted to this trade union committee, this dangerous body. They were consulted. Not only were these questions remitted to them but their decisions were acted upon. So far as I am informed they vetted all the applications. They turned down quite a large number of them, and where they did not turn them down the Minister confirmed their recommendations. That was a pure trade union committee. If they were such dangerous people, why did the noble Lord consult them then? That is the puzzle in my mind. Why has this danger suddenly arisen after the war?
Perhaps I might interrupt the noble Viscount. I do not think I said anything in the course of my speech to the effect that the Government should not consult with the trade unions. I do not remember saying that. What I said was that when the Government had a certain policy, and the T.U.C. had a certain policy, the T.U.C. carried the day. The sort of instance I gave was when the Government asked for a higher standard of production and the T.U.C. puts forward the 40-hour week. They carry out their own policy irrespective of what the Government ask.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
Those remarks contain a number of statements of alleged fact which require investigation. However, may I just continue the story, because I shall come to the point of the noble Viscount. Quite honestly, we have no desire to evade that point. What I want now is to emphasize that in any industrial question it is a sensible thing to consult an organization representing the workers in that industry. That is what those organizations are for, and those consultations were carried on in the war 47 with great advantage. That is just what we are doing now. With regard to the Ministry of Food's consultations with a purely trade union committee, I may say that the only Minister of Food who has acted without the concurrence of that committee is the Labour Minister of Food. In one particular instance he issued an extra ration without having been advised by the committee, and the only Minister who has had, shall we say, the backbone to act independently, is the Labour Minister. I am not quite sure whether he was wise in that respect but that is not the point. He was not subservient, and what I am speaking about now is the question of subservience.
§ LORD LLEWELLIN
May I interrupt the noble Viscount, because I certainly did not think that I was at all lacking in backbone when I did consult the committee on these' food matters? The Trades Union Advisory Committee was only an advisory committee, and the Ministry felt it was an extremely valuable committee. Knowing the controversy over the difference between miners' rations and all the other rations, I certainly would not have thought of doing anything without first consulting that committee.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
I commend the noble Lord's wisdom, and I entirely agree with him. The only reason why I am bringing this up and telling this story is to show that these are not such dangerous fellows after all. They may be of some use sometimes; they may be trustworthy people; and therefore I do not apprehend all these dangers.
Now I come to the next point, about which I was not quite clear, but the noble Viscount said something about the "closed shop." Now let me just say a word or two about the "closed shop." In the first place it would be a human impossibility for the trade unions, who have some 6,500,000 members, to establish a "closed shop," even if they wanted to, in the industries of the country which have some 20,000,000 workers. The next point is that the Trades Union Congress does not want, and never has wanted, a "closed shop." It has passed resolutions against the "closed shop" on three different occasions, and the last one was a fortnight ago at Brighton. Therefore, the Trades Union Congress is not in favour of the "closed shop." It has 48 passed resolutions quite deliberately against the "closed shop," and the reason is that it knows the facts. The acts are that, for example, in the engineering trade there are thirty different anions. It is not a possibility to establish a "closed shop" in circumstances of that kind.
The fact is that the multiplication of anions in some industries sometimes leads to unfortunate results. There is much competition between the unions, and all rinds of problems and difficulties about demarcation arise, which would not arise if you did not have so many bodies to teal with. As a matter of fact, the whole tendency in industry is to gather the anions into greater bodies, and that is welcomed by the employers and by everybody else, because you then have some coherent 'body with whom to consult. I myself have been guilty, many times, of making speeches on agriculture in which recommended every farmer to belong to the National Farmers' Union and every workman to be in his trade union. I have done it lots of times, and I think it was very good advice. It is altogether the good when you are negotiating with to industry that you should have a coherent, experienced and responsible body with which to negotiate. Therefore, there is nothing to be apprehended from that, and in fact great advantages are likely to arise.
Now let me give another illustration which is material. My noble friend Lord Ammon is the Chairman of an organization which deals with dock labour. This organization includes the whole of the lock workers and it has now become so well accepted and well-recognized that I understand it has recently levied a toll of 15½ per cent, on the wages paid, to be paid into a pool. That pool is in order to enable that organization to deal with the casual labour waiting drearily the rain at the docks, which is a disgrace to the free system the noble Viscount seems to long for. This organization if Toil like is a "closed shop," because the lockers are all in it—they have all got be in it—and the employers welcome it because it is a means of pooling their contributions. This organization enables decasualization of labour to be made effective, and it is the only way it could be made effective, being done with the good will of the whole industry. So let is not be carried away by these phrases 49 which are apt to give nervous people the jitters.
There are all kinds of closed shops. I have been having a look at one or two of them, I am not complaining about them, I am only saying that they have not hitherto come in for admonition. There is, for example, the Light Castings Association, which is a very efficient body. It has been in existence, I should think, for thirty years or more. I remember it was investigated by the Trusts Committee in 1917, so it must have been in existence before then. What does that association do? It controls the sale prices of all light castings, and if any shopkeeper sells anything below the price specified by the association, he not only does not get any light castings of any sort or kind to sell, but they put him out of business. I am not saying that that is wrong; I am only stating the facts. The fact is that this association is so powerful that it could, if it wanted, put an offender out of business. Of course it does not, because the people are not so foolish as to disregard it.
Those concerned are anxious to secure stability of prices; that is the whole idea behind an association of this kind, to see there is no undercutting and to see that the producers of the different articles are, in their view, paid a fair price for their products. That is what we are proposing to do for agriculture, and it is quite fair. That is the idea behind this association, and if anybody does oppose it he suffers from having his shop closed. It is another form of closure, that is all. Any organization needs to be compact to achieve the purpose for which it was created, and it does not necessarily follow that because you have a compact organization there is any harm.
I would suggest that when the noble Viscount is deploring this growth of the power of organized labour, he might reflect upon the power of organized employers. It has been within the power of organized employers for a generation or more to put the men out on the street and to keep them waiting in the rain at the dock gates. That is not the kind of freedom we want—or the noble Viscount for that matter; that is the kind of freedom we have to organize against, and we cannot organize against it unless we have a competent organization on both sides with which we can deal. At the present time negotiations are being conducted to 50 bring all the employers into one association, and I am not complaining about it; I think it is the sensible thing to do. But, if it is the sensible thing for employers, why is it a crime for the workers? Why is it a danger for the workers who have suffered from the other kind of danger for years and years? It is because they have suffered from the other dangers that they have returned a Socialist Government who fully intend to give effect as far as they can, to their pledges.
I have in my hand a very interesting directive. It is a directive from the Prime Minister, Mr. Churchill, to his colleagues. He indicates to Ministers that they are to consult with the trade unions. He gives directions that the Ministers should arrange, wherever possible, for consultations and co-operation with the Trades Union Congress or individual trade unions on all matters which are felt to concern them. That was the instruction given to his colleagues by Mr. Churchill; and it was given in equally emphatic terms before him by Mr. Neville Chamberlain. In this directive there are some very important words:He hopes therefore they will be ready to arrange, wherever possible, for the Trade Union Congress or individual trade unions where this is more appropriate, to be consulted in advance on all matters which are felt to be of concern to them.They are to be consulted "in advance." I think it was a very sensible instruction. But if they are such dangerous people as all that, why should a Conservative Prime Minister instruct his colleagues to consult them in advance before they even prepare proposals for submission to the Cabinet?
Does the noble Lord suggest any advantage would be effected by consulting in arrears after you come to a decision? Would there be any point in that?
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
Of course not. I am quoting to show the wisdom of this document. It is extraordinarily sensible. Mr. Chamberlain and Mr. Churchill were perfectly right; it was most sensible to consult the trade unions when matters came up, in advance of some action which might be a misguided action. That is the proper way to find out.
The noble Viscount misinterprets me. He is suggesting I am against consultations. I 51 hope he does not because that is the impression he might make on the House, and I never said that.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
In the noble Viscount's case nothing could be further from my intention than to misinterpret him. The noble Viscount knows that I am well aware that he knew of these consultations. No, my Lords, the point that I am replying to is not so much the words he used in his speech, but the sort of fear that they would be likely to arouse in the mind of uninformed people. They would think of the increasing power of the trade unions and that "the time will come when the workmen will have to take orders from the trade union bosses"—those are the words of the noble Lord. The whole suggestion to my mind was that, arising out of this consultation with trade union organizations, the trade unions were acquiring such great power that they may even be able to dictate to Governments, or words to that effect. The point I am making is that it has been the custom of Governments to consult with the trade unions and that it was a directive of Mr. Chamberlain first, and then of Mr. Churchill to his own colleagues, that they should do so. They were instructed to consult the trade unions in advance of submitting proposals to their own colleagues. Therefore, there can be nothing foolish if a Labour Government follows that excellent example, because that is all we are doing. These apprehensions, quite frankly, have so far as I know no basis in fact,
I have described the action of the Trades Union Congress with regard to the "closed shop." I would like, though it was not referred to by the noble Viscount, to refer to a campaign which seems to be gradually unfolding itself. It seems to have started in a Sunday newspaper under the expression "Twilight of Freedom." That was the gloomy forecast, and it is gradually developing that this dreadful Labour Government is seeking to stamp out liberty. I want to know what liberties we are seeking to stamp out. We are certainly not stamping out the liberty of free speech. But take the liberty of free expression of opinion. The organization to which this very newspaper belongs has monopolized the Press in a considerable number of provincial cities. I lived for some years in the City of Sheffield. In 52 those days there were two papers—the Sheffield Telegraph, the local Conservative paper, and the Sheffield Independent, the local Liberal paper. Both were very good papers indeed. But I understand they have been acquired and now there is only one. What about the liberty of expression in that provincial town of the journalists, the editors, and the rest of them? They have to take their instructions. It is not the "Twilight of Freedom" there; it is the obliteration of all freedom so far as the freedom of expression of opinion in the Press is concerned.
We do not stand for the obliteration of freedom not even through a newspaper, and so far as any newspapers that we are supported by are concerned, if they tend to suppress the free expression of opinion then I think it is to be reprobated. At all events, we have taken no action that suppresses personal freedom in this way. We have taken action with regard to the continuation of controls where there is a scarcity and this does limit the freedom of the person who has been able to get more than his share from getting it. It does this and it is intended to do it, and we propose to continue this control because it is the right thing, it is the only thing to ensure that certain commodities are fairly distributed amongst all people. So long as there is a scarcity, control is warranted, and that it does limit the freedom of a greedy person I agree—but as I say it is intended that it should impose such a limitation.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
That delightful story was entirely new to me. I did not even know what a recorder was, but I accept the noble Lord's description of that freakish misuse of the issue of forms as accurate, and I should be glad later on to be further informed of the facts. There, perhaps, is another side to this matter though I do not, I admit, know at all what it is. Certainly it seems a strange story. I do not pretend, for a moment, that the maintenance of these different controls is not irritating. It is. We should all be glad to be rid of them. Nobody felt more how distasteful it was to impose bread rationing than the Cabinet who had to decide upon it. We all dislike these controls; but some of them are 53 necessary, and so long as they are necessary we shall not hesitate to maintain them and to defend them.
I hope that outside—I know that in this House there is no danger of such a thing happening—the noble Viscount's most important speech will not be misinterpreted. We have no desire to suppress freedom of opinion, freedom of conscience or any other personal freedom, and I do hope that we shall be spared in this country the manufacture, shall we say, of another scare. I have known a number of these scares. I remember the Zinoviev letter. That was the first of them. It was an exceedingly well-managed scare and it was exceedingly potent. The people had not then become used to such things. Then we had two other scares in the recent General Election. We—my noble friends and I—were made out to be, I think, a sort of organized Gestapo or something of that kind. But it did not seem to carry much conviction to the ordinary rank and file. Then we had the "Laski" scare. If there ever was a damp squib it was that, because it had no relation whatever to realities. Anybody who knows the realities of the case knows perfectly well that the relations between the Government and the Trades Union Congress are perfectly right and proper. There has, so far as I know, been no case whatever in which the Trades Union Congress or any of its organizations has attempted to usurp any of the functions of Parliament. I am sure that they are all too well informed and too patriotic. Whatever may be our faults—and I am sure that we have plenty—whatever may be our difficulties—and they are much more numerous—I do assure the noble Viscount that he can really sleep quite comfortably in his bed. I can assure him that we shall make no attack on personal liberties. We have never thought of doing it. The idea has never entered our heads. Indeed, I can assure him that he will find no more stalwart defenders of our British Parliamentary institutions and our liberties than the present Government.
§ 5.26 p.m.
My Lords, after some two and three quarter hours of debate in this House, I think we may say that we have come to the end of the "big guns" who have generalized about the gracious Speech, and now we have to come down to the "little guns" who have not 54 great minds and who possibly can deal only with single thoughts. Before I come to the one subject which I want to discuss, I would like to express my intense admiration to the noble Leader of the House for his most artistic exhibition of skating during the last three quarters of an hour or more. The demonstration of his ability to skate over thin ice, to jump over the difficult points and to land on somewhat trembling ice on the other side, was really remarkable. But the wonderfully skilful way in which he tried to suggest that consultation with a trade union on a point affecting the trade union was the same thing as consultation with the Trades Union Congress on a point affecting government and national affairs struck me as the most marvellous bit of skating of the whole lot.
Now, if I may, I wish to deal with one subject and one only—that is the question of nationalization. I am not at all sure that, at the moment, I am standing on the right side of the House to say what I wish to say. To start with, Lord Morrison expressed my own views most admirably, far better indeed than I could hope to express them myself. Then I would refer the House to a speech made by Mr. Herbert Morrison, the Lord President of the Council, at the annual dinner of the Board of Trade of the City of Toronto. That again puts my own thoughts into words. If I may, I will read from The Times report of that speech. Mr. Morrison is reported to have said:The question to be decided was whether, in the circumstances, the industry was likely to be better run by free competitive competition, private enterprise, or free monopoly private enterprise, or control and supervised monopoly enterprise, or by public enterprise of one sort or another.Later on he said:It is up to the nationalizers to prove their case that there would be public advantage by nationalization. It was no less up to the anti-nationalizers to prove their case that the public interest could best be served by private ownership.I can find no fault with those words, in fact they express my own views absolutely. But I wonder whether they are like so many of the promises made at the last Election, just words that were suitable to the occasion and to be forgotten as soon as they became inconvenient.
I know the Government claim that they have a mandate. So far as coal is concerned 55 I agree, although I cannot agree with the method by which that mandate was obtained. So far as the railways are concerned, it is a debatable point, and not one which I am competent to argue. So far as road haulage is concerned, I say that the Government have never had even so much as the ghost of a mandate. No one has ever suggested, or made any attempt to explain to the electorate, what nationalization of road transport would mean, and I am certainly not going to attempt to do it to-day. I am not arguing this on a political basis at all. I am a fairly reasonable man, and I am quite prepared to be convinced. But I do demand, as a matter of right, that some attempt should be made to convince me that (in the words of Mr. Morrison) there will be greater efficiency under nationalization. No one has ever suggested that road haulage in this country is inefficient. The only complaint that I have ever heard against it was that it was so efficient that the railways could not compete. Is that inefficiency; or is it efficiency? That point does not now arise for, if you grant the road hauliers their efficiency, they have come to their agreement with the railways, and the railways will be able to carry on, in spite of the efficiency of the road hauliers.
There is another side to the matter. To-day, it is not only the owners but the vast majority of the drivers and others employed in road transport who are most active against the nationalization of their industry. And why? The older men have seen for themselves the results of the nationalization of other industries. The younger men are looking to their own future. They realize that under nationalization the chance of advancement goes. They cannot go to the other firm that wants just the qualities which they possess, and get the job that they want. They have to take their place in the queue, and be promoted when their time comes. If you want an example of that, you have only to go to the Post Office. You will not find every Post Office official walking around with a smiling face, thinking how quickly he has got ahead. Then take the case of the man who may be a little hot-tempered, and who has a new foreman put in over his head. He may not like the shape of the foreman's nose. He may not like the way the foreman talks to him. Perhaps he decides 56 to alter the shape of the man's nose—and does it. Where is that man to go for another job? He may have been in the trade twenty or thirty years. He "dots his foreman one," and he goes out on his ear. I wonder if it is realized how many of the strikes which have taken place in London Transport have been caused by just that one thing.
The men know that if they do their job they will be all right, and then, suddenly, when they do something that is just a little bit wrong, they get the sack. And there is no other Transport Board in London to which they can go for another job. When these men get the sack, their comrades stage a little strike, and the men are reinstated. Are we to have strikes all through our road haulage industry, because men are getting "topsides" with their foreman? The road haulage industry has been singularly free from strikes. There has not been one major strike since 1926. What the road haulage industry asks for—what I, as a reasonable man, ask for—is what the Lord President promised and what the noble Lord, Lord Morrison, himself granted was just—that it should be proved that a nationalized transport is more efficient than a privately controlled one. That can only be proved as a result of public inquiry. It is not for me to try to prove the case one way or the other, but it is for this House to demand that inquiry. If the Government refuse that inquiry, which is demanded throughout the country, there is only one possible conclusion to be drawn: that they dare not face it because they know they cannot prove their case.
§ 5.38 p.m.
My Lords, at this late hour I will make my remarks rather shorter than I would otherwise have done, because there is a good deal in this gracious Speech to which one would wish to refer. For instance, there is the question of Germany. One saw with great regret that that question was not discussed in Paris. I hope sincerely that the atmosphere in which it is discussed in New York will be less bilious than it was in Paris, and that the elevation of the proceedings to the twenty-seventh floor in New York will send a breeze and a more conciliatory atmosphere through that Conference. I was not in agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Holden, in his otherwise excellent speech, when he said that all 57 that matters in international affairs to-day is the question of food. I am heartily in sympathy with him on his main thesis, that food matters a great deal, but there are other questions such as security, referred to in the gracious Speech, which are of very great importance, so far as Germany is concerned. The frontiers of Germany must be settled at this conference in such a way as to secure the world against any future aggression from Germany. As I read the speech of the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in another place on. October 23, he seems to be fully seized of that necessity, and I sincerely hope that there will be no going back on the particular line laid down by him in that speech.
I am very pleased to observe in the gracious Speech the passage about the necessity for maintaining our forces at the present time. I should like to sum that up by merely referring, as another Lord has done, to the myth of collective security, which before the war led us into such disaster. Henceforth, I sincerely hope that it will be our own strong arm that will take the defensive measure which will defend us from any other aggressions, and not a myth like collective security. In that connexion I hope that the Security Council of the United Nations Organization will be able to come to some decision to create a force to back them in any measures which they may have to take in order to keep the peace of the world.
It is extremely gratifying to observe that Their Majesties are going to visit South Africa next year. I am sure that South Africa will receive Their Majesties' visit with the greatest enthusiasm, and I can conceive of no more effective way of bringing all His Majesty's subjects in South Africa together than by such a visit. That brings us to the old question of the Commonwealth of Nations. The more collaboration and the more discussion there can be in these troublous days, the better it will be, and I am glad to note and to welcome in the gracious Speech that that is the policy of the Government.
While these are matters with which I think most of your Lordships would agree, there is another part of the gracious Speech with which I am not so much in accord. I refer particularly to the proposals for the nationalization of the transport 58 and electrical industries of the country. These proposals fill me with a great deal of despondency and, I may say, alarm. Day in and day out we are warned by the Government that the economic and industrial position of the country is most uncertain. We listened this afternoon to the excellent speech of the noble Lord, Lord Morrison, in which he told us that labour to-day in his district—and presumably it applies everywhere else—is unsettled. Not only is the industrial position of the country uncertain and in a state of chaos, but the Government are warning industries that they must pull themselves together if they are to emerge from the slough in which they are struggling. In spite of this, when industry is manfully endeavouring to get on its feet again, it is to be further dislocated and thrown into a worse morass by the nationalization of two great industries which are intimately bound up with the development of industry and which have so far proved themselves in practice to be eminently efficient and smooth-working.
You cannot nationalize these two industries without dislocating other industries. Passing from private control to Government control must, in the nature of things, cause dislocation and difficulties. You cannot change course just like that. It does not happen like that at all. All these other industries, in one way or another, will feel the effect of that change. Yet the Government come forward just at this moment, when they admit that things are difficult—they are doing their level best, I grant them that, to try and get industry on its feet—with these two great schemes of nationalization which are going to make things even worse, in the process of changing, even if after they are changed things might be better in some directions.
This is a policy which, so far as I can see, is engendered by a blind determination to pursue their political programmes irrespective of any results—and I say any disastrous results—that might accrue from them. Government speakers and Government propaganda are constantly attacking industry, asking industry to pull itself together and blaming managements for not pulling their weight. I venture to suggest that exhortations of that nature by the Government and their speakers are 59 particularly unfair. I have considerable knowledge of industry; I am associated with industry myself; I am in close contact with it, and I know that managements and many of the men—probably most of the men—all over the country are doing their level best to progress and to convert from war-time to peace-time production. But—and this is my point—they are being hindered in many directions. I am not going to use the word frustrated; it is becoming far too hackneyed. I am going to suggest certain ways in which they are being hindered and try to explain to your Lordships that it is not their fault that they are not getting ahead; it is because of those conditions which I wish to explain to your Lordships.
First of all, there is the overshadowing difficulty of the shortage of coal. It takes very little imagination on the part of your Lordships to conjure up what the shortage of coal means. It means shortage of electricity; it means shortage of power; it means shortage of steel; it means shortage of iron; it means shortage of all those material things which go to make up the smooth flow of industry. Then, secondly, I take the shortage of materials. At the present moment there is very little steel in this country. I am concerned with a certain industry in which we have 100 per cent. orders and we can take only 30 per cent. of them. Why is that? It is because we have not got the materials. We cannot get the steel, and we are held up for it. That is the same all over the country. It applies to motors—and I am talking particularly of the manufacture of motors—and it applies also to the industry of motor cars of which my noble friend has just spoken, where they cannot get the steel. It applies to nearly every other industry in the country; they are all held up. As much as they want to fulfil those orders they cannot do it because of the shortage of steel.
I am going to give another instance, and this is an export instance. There is a certain colliery in South Africa which is desirous of putting in another plant. All the equipment for that new plant was ordered in this country, to my knowledge, early this year, and delivery was promised by October of this year. Within the last fortnight information has been received (and this is from one of the 60 largest electrical engineering firms in this country) that they cannot deliver until May, and it is not even certain that they will be able to deliver in May. In the meantime that colliery may break down, or something else may happen. It may be necessary to go to the United States, Switzerland or somewhere else to order that plant, and that will take the order out of the hands of the British firm which tendered for it and which has it in its hands at the present moment. I am only emphasizing this point to show that there is another case where managements are driven crazy in trying to get the materials in order to fulfil their orders.
Then there is another thing. There is the unsettled labour about which we have heard this afternoon; and not only its unsettled condition but its quantity. It is not available. I know the Government cannot do a great deal about that, but I am only trying to state the case of the managements of industry in this country who are so often accused of not doing their best. Finally, there is the cluttering of licensing controls which create impassable and impossible bottlenecks. In other words, it is a case of unbridled bureaucracy, and I say that deliberately. The number of departments through which the unfortunate managements of industry have to go in order to try and get the smallest piece of raw material, or implements, or whatever it may be, is positively alarming. That is what industry has to put up with to-day and that is what managements are faced with. Now on top of all that we are to have two very large measures of nationalization. Whether or not they will prove good in the end, no one knows; I do not think they will, but I do not want to take that argument to-day. On top of all this you are going to nationalize these two industries and so dislocate and throw further sand into machinery which is already not turning round as it ought to.
I felt that this afternoon I had at least to put forward to your Lordships' House the case of industry from its own point of view. I venture to suggest to the noble Viscount the Leader of the House that he should ask his colleagues who have to deal with these matters to refrain from hinting and suggesting, as is constantly being done, that the managements of all these concerns are not doing their best 61 in most difficult circumstances. Of course they are doing their best; it would be folly if they did not do their best. After all, they all want to get on. None of them is sitting still. They know what the state of the country is, and they will get on, but when they have conditions of this sort to face it is quite impossible. I do hope that before these two industries are finally nationalized the Government will look at the matter from the point of view of ascertaining the best method of changing over from private enterprise to State nationalization, so as to cause the least amount of dislocation to all those industries which are dependent upon these two big industries and so as to alleviate, at any rate to some extent, what many of us believe will produce very poor results.
§ LORD DENHAM
My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend, Viscount Portal, I beg to move that this debate be now adjourned.
§ Moved, That the debate be now adjourned.—(Lord Denham.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly till tomorrow.