§ 2.47 p.m.
§ Debate resumed (according to Order) on the Motion moved yesterday by Lord Morrison—namely, 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."
My Lords, this is the first occasion on which I have addressed your Lordships' House since I left the Coalition Government exactly two years ago, and I am speaking to-day in order to bring before you my views on the part of the King's Speech which deals with bringing the inland transport services under national ownership and control. It is only right to begin one's remarks by saying what the Road Hauliers' Association and the four main railway companies are asking for. They are asking for a public inquiry by an impartial tribunal before any such Bill is introduced. The reason for this is that once the transport system of this country is nationalized it would be impossible to change it, and it is fair, both to the public and the traders, that they should be satisfied that this change will be beneficial to the country.
I had the privilege of hearing the mover of the humble Address yesterday, the noble Lord, Lord Morrison, and if I may be allowed to pay my tribute to his speech, I think it was an absolute model of what such a speech should be. I was in complete agreement with most of his most of his 69 remarks as regards nationalization. He and I had a great deal to do with one another during the war and I should hate not to quote his remarks properly, so I took them out of Hansard this morning. He said this: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.If I may say so, I am in full agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Morrison, and that is why I shall attempt to show that it is better not to go too fast but to have a public inquiry before such a drastic step is taken as is contemplated.
I have not had the advantage of seeing the Bill which the Government have in contemplation, but there are so many important factors to be considered that I think it only right to take this opportunity of putting some of them before your Lordships this afternoon. As you know, differences between road and rail constituted one of the great difficulties in days gone by on the question of transport. After the war of 1914–18, when road competition became acute, the railways began to feel the handicap of their statutory obligations which put them at a disadvantage with road transport which was uncontrolled until the passing of the Road Traffic Acts in 1930, 1933, and 1934. These only partially dealt with the situation, but they did not make the road hauliers subject to the same statutory obligations as the railways. In January, 1945, for the first time, the National Road Transport Federation was formed, and there we have the first body prepared and ready to negotiate on questions between road and rail. This body could speak with authority for all road haulage interests and in May, 1945, fresh conversations were initiated between the General Managers of the four main line railway companies and the Road Haulage Association, representing the road hauliers section of the Federation. These conversations had the support of the then Minister of War Transport, Lord Leathers, and they continued with the approval of the present Minister of Transport.
As a result of these conversations a scheme was agreed upon for the co-ordination of all road and rail freight transport services. Under this scheme, which 70 was submitted to the Minister of Transport in July of this year, the road haulage industry, for the first time, largely accepted the obligations involved by a public service, and it is well that we should know this afternoon the main points of this scheme. They are these. First, the road hauliers, within the limits specified in their licences, undertake to provide reasonable and, where appropriate, regular services; and to accept all traffic offered which is within their capacity to carry. Secondly, area organizations to be established to provide for the conveyance of goods by road which cannot be handled conveniently by individual hauliers under the terms of their licence. Thirdly, a Road-Rail Tribunal to be established similar to the present Railway Rates Tribunal to settle standard conditions of carriage, classification of merchandise, and co-related road and rail rates schedules. Fourthly, any representative body of users or providers of transport to be entitled to be heard before the Road-Rail Tribunal on these matters, and any trader to be free to apply to the Tribunal to vary the scheduled charges or any of them on the grounds that they are not reasonable. Fifthly, observance of rates and conditions of carriage to be a statutory obligation on the railways and road hauliers.
Under this scheme the dangers of monopoly will be avoided as traders will be entirely free to choose the form of transport most suitable to their business, including the right to carry their own goods in their own vehicles under C licences. There can be no monopoly so long as traders have the right to provide their own transport, because public transport undertakings cannot thrive unless they can meet the traders' requirements better than the traders can themselves. If a trader considers any rate to be unreasonable he will have the right of appeal to the Rates Tribunal. I am dealing with this part of my subject at some length because I regard it as of the greatest importance. There are other methods of organization of road and rail co-ordination to ensure the most economical use of road transport. These include the organization of railway collection and delivery and other road services on a co-operative basis to ensure the most economic use of transport. There is also the provision of railway wagons for the sole use of the road haulage industry on selected routes so as to provide express services for long-distance traffic- 71 Further—and this point I make very strongly this afternoon—there is the establishment of a transport advisory body, possibly assisted by local bodies, representing transport undertakings, traders, and organized labour, to advise the Minister of Transport on the development of transport facilities and still closer co-ordination of all forms of transport.
The proposals in this new agreement provide for a large measure of co-ordination with a minimum of disturbance. I emphasize this question of disturbance because in these days things are very difficult in this country and the question of a minimum of disturbance is very important. The proposals leave ample scope for enterprise on a fair and competitive basis and go far to eliminate the waste that is admitted to exist in any wholly unregulated competition. I am one of those who believe that unregulated competition is a great danger. I think most of your Lordships will agree with that point of view.
The next point I wish to make on this question is that, while these negotiations were going on, all the various trading bodies which were interested in this matter were taken into consultation. We had the Association of British Chambers of Commerce, the Federation of British Industries, and the Traders Co-ordinating Committee on Transport, and in their joint statement they say:We are satisfied that the proposals safeguard the factors which we regard as essential—namely:
- (a) the freedom of the trader or manufacturer to select the form of transport he wishes to use;
- (b) the freedom of the trader or manufacturer to operate his own vehicles without restriction.The proposals show how the necessary co-ordination of the two forms of transport can be achieved without resort to State monopoly, our opposition to which has already been expressed.That comes from the four principal trading bodies in this country.
Then I would put this point to your Lordships. I have not of course seen the Bill, but I presume that the Bill will not be produced from the point of view of the efficiency of the railways. As your Lordships will agree, their preparedness and the work they carried out for this country during the war under extreme difficulties have been recognized by all. I am not one of those who believe in praise from within, 72 I would rather have praise from without. Many great businesses in this country are always, and probably quite rightly, saying how wonderful they are. I would rather hear that from the outside, and I would rather take for our witnesses our great American allies who, if efficiency were the testing point, would never be backward in criticism or in praise. The tribute paid to our railways by General Eisenhower and his staff, as well as by transport experts who come from America, is sufficient proof to me of the efficiency of our railways. I would leave that to your Lordships, and, in doing so, I can myself pay tribute to the great work that was done because those were the only four years of the last twenty years that I was not there. The way the men and the officers and everybody carried on during these difficult days when the railways were being bombed night and day deserves the praise of all parties. I consider, therefore, that the railways have proved their efficiency on the operational side.
I will now take you to the economic running of the railways. The best example I can give you will be the Charges (Railway Control) Consultative Committee which has recently held an inquiry at the request of the Minister of Transport to advise him as to the best method of adjusting railway charges so as to produce in 1947 a net revenue approximating to the amount of rent payable by the Government to the railway companies under the control agreement. The figure including the London Transport Board is £42,000,000; if you take the railways alone it is just under £39,000,000 a year which has to be produced. When the end of the war came I think that the only advance made in railway charges was approximately 16½ per cent. on pre-war charges. The evidence and estimates given by the companies and supported at the inquiry on the basis of the existing wage levels and cost of materials indicated that if railway charges were increased to 37 per cent. over their pre-war level the net revenue which the Minister requires would be forthcoming. I think this is very important, that for an increase of 37 per cent. the same net revenue which stockholders were being paid under control would be forthcoming.
I was responsible for two years to the Ministry of Supply for most of the controls in this country and there were no other controls I knew of that could work 73 at 37 per cent. over their pre-war figure. Now the railways are saying that 37 per cent. will give them the revenue required. The average increase in railway costs—I take the figures from the Minister of Transport—is about 70 per cent. That is what he puts them at, and I will quote the words that he spoke during the Transport Charges (Increases) debate on June 26, 1946:I would like to indicate the relative position of transport charges as compared with similar basic services which affect the general level of prices. For instance, the price of cotton goods has advanced 98.2 per cent.; wool 80.8 per cent.; building materials 61.6 per cent. and coal 97.9 per cent. The wholesale price of milk has increased by 50 per cent.…He then makes a very important point:Two years after the 1914–18 war railway charges increased by approximately 100 per cent. over 1914 cost. Later there was a reduction to approximately 60 per cent., and the figure was stabilized in 1928 at 60 per cent. above the 1914 cost. In this case, transport charges have not moved in any way above the level of the general price movement within the community. The increase I am putting on at the highest level, with regard to passengers and freights, brings the figure up to 33⅓per cent. over the 1939 cost.I am not going into detail because your Lordships realize that the Minister of Transport was adjusting the rates because he wanted to help our industries, our export trades. The Minister goes on:My purpose is to bring the rates in that group to a level of 25 per cent. over 1939 cost. If every other commodity and service in the country had an increase of only 33⅓ or 25 per cent. we should be in a very much happier position than we are to-day.I now want to put some points relating to questions of expenditure. The main items of expenditure by the railways—namely, salaries and wages, coal, sleepers and rails—have all risen markedly. Salaries and wages have risen by 60 per cent. Coal has increased by 137 per cent. alone and I should like to explain that, as you are no doubt aware, the railways had the privilege before the war, being the biggest users, or some of the biggest users of coal, of buying it at a quite economical figure in large quantities. The practice in fact was just what it was in other trades throughout the country. The big buyer was able to get just what he wanted at a better price than the small buyer who bought possibly one small lot at a time. Coal prices, then, have gone up to the railway companies by 137 per cent. Sleepers have gone up by 204 per 74 cent. and rails by 70 per cent. Therefore, I think it can fairly be claimed that it is a tribute to the efficiency of the operation of the railways that under the present ownership and management they expect to be able to earn the additional revenue sought by the Minister from the relatively small increase in their charges to which I have referred. That is a point which I want to make and I hope that I have established it.
I come now to a point with which I am sure noble Lords opposite as well as other members of the House will be in sympathy. One of the chief factors, and one which I myself consider most important in these days of great difficulty, is to have settled conditions in industry. That is almost the biggest priority you can have to-day in industry in this country. We have been fortunate in having had no major disputes for twenty years on the railways and this one attributes to the success of the conciliation machinery employed by the railways for settling questions of wages and conditions of service of our railway staff. This machinery might well be copied in other spheres of industry to-day. As it functions now, if the railway companies and their employees are unable to reach agreement, the matters at issue are referred to a National Wages Tribunal which is an entirely independent body. But if the Minister, by virtue of his responsibility for the administration of transport, became party to proceedings before the Tribunal and a decision of the Tribunal was subsequently raised in Parliament, he might in certain circumstances be put in the position of becoming judge in his own cause and would often, I am afraid, be faced with political pressure.
I have followed the question of nationalization whether it be applied to the railways or to coal, and I think that this is one of the great difficulties with which we are faced to-day. Many members of this House, on both sides, have been Ministers themselves and they know and appreciate what a different thing it is to be a Minister watching a dispute in an industry in the ordinary way and a Minister concerned in a dispute when he has appointed a Board. When you appoint a Board and there is any trouble, well, it is your Board and you have responsibility concerning it. Therefore, as I say, I think this is one of the greatest difficulties to be faced in this connexion in the future with the 75 nationalizing of industry. You all know the kind of set-up where you have the owners and employers on the one side, the men on the other and the Minister sitting aloof and only acting when called upon but hoping that he will not be called upon. That is a far better set-up than a set-up resulting from his appointing a Board and thus being a party to one side or the other.
Now I want to say that the test of any well-run business must surely be whether it can meet the requirements of its customers in an efficient and economic way. This is the objective which is uppermost in the minds of those who administer the affairs of the railway companies. The railways as statutory companies are subject to such regulations as Parliament may consider to be necessary in the national interest, and while it is their policy to have regard to national interest at all times they have a special interest in fostering traffic within their own particular areas.
Let me give a simple illustration. For a time I helped to represent four railway companies, but I have one particular railway company whose line goes down to my spiritual home in Wales. In that service, and in fact in all other railway services, the policy is to do all we can to encourage the industry located around one's own particular section of the railway. I remember when dealing with special areas in Durham how the L.N.E.R. helped the Durham people by supplying them with goods in their own district. That is how the railways help, and I consider that that is the right policy. We do all we can to encourage the establishment and development of businesses on our lines. Officials make a point of keeping in close touch with all traders in order to ensure that the transport requirements are fully met and to assist where possible in the development of their business. Thus, there has grown up a relationship in which the personal factor has played a prominent part in business development, and I know from my own knowledge that this policy has contributed very materially to productive output.
When we remember that there have been no fewer than sixteen Ministers of Transport during the last twenty-six years one can hardly expect continuity of policy to be maintained. There are 76 many, like ourselves, who feel that advantages of the nature of those to which I have referred will be lost if future policy should become centralized under the general direction of the Minister of Transport. Your Lordships will agree that sixteen is a large number of Ministers of Transport to have had in that number of years. I liken the position of the railways to that of the patient, with the sixteen Ministers as the panel doctors. I think that is a fair description. I would point out that if you are to have a major operation you will not rely on a panel doctor—even under the new medical system of this country. If you can, you will have the best specialist possible, to decide whether you are to be operated upon. Your Lordships opposite will probably not agree with me there—but I am sure that that is what you would all do with your families; and I possess a larger family than any of you at the present time.
The present system of administration of the railways with its flexibility in the fixation of rates, and the freedom to meet local and other conditions, has facilitated many industrial developments, and in so doing helped to alleviate the depression which, not so long ago, existed in the different parts of the country. The noble Viscount the First Lord of the Admiralty will be the first to acknowledge that. Because of the flexibility of rates, Welsh valleys had new industries started in days gone by, and the railways were able to meet those long haulages and the all-important development of what we called the Special Areas—what we now call the Development Areas. The amalgamation of the various railway companies into the present four main line companies took place after I92I, and it took five or six years to accomplish. To carry out another far-reaching scheme, such as is now proposed, must take a long time. We have been told by everybody in this country, from the Prime Minister down, that the time when we are trying to increase our production and our exports and to get industry on its legs again, is not the time to make such a drastic change in transport as is now foreshadowed.
All the railway companies have their programmes ready to start, directly the material and labour are available. A change of this kind must mean a slowing up of all these plans. Under our present 77 system, decisions on policy and capital expenditure can be taken immediately. Will it be possible to get decisions taken as quickly, when in many cases they will have to be referred to a Government Department and, probably, to the Treasury? It is not as if the results of nationalization of transport in other countries can give the Government the necessary confidence to proceed without any public inquiry.
I have summarized the position with regard to the road-rail agreement. I have tried to summarize it also as to efficiency and economy in operating the railways, the advantages of our National Wages Tribunal (which are put so high), and the flexibility of railway administration in the fixation of rates. These are some of the grounds on which we are asking for an impartial inquiry by a public tribunal. Your Lordships may ask what right I have to talk to you about railways. I am one of those who believe in tradition; there is nobody in this House who does not believe in tradition, and I do not think that belief in tradition need be reactionary. You can still have tradition and be progressive. My family has been associated with railways for eighty-five years. My grandfather was Chairman of the South Western Railway, and my father was Deputy Chairman of the South Western Railway. I am now Chairman of the Great Western Railway; so that we have had a continuity of eighty-five years. My friends in this House, who used to see more of me than they do to-day, would never label me as reactionary. I am justly proud of the railways and I do ask the Government, before they do anything drastic, to be quite certain that they are making a move in the right direction—as was said in the preamble to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Morrison, yesterday.
§ 3.15 p.m.
My Lords, it is good once more to hear the voice of the noble Viscount, Lord Portal, in this Chamber. He has just given us a good example of the successful working of the hereditary system as applied to railway directors. He has made out—as of course he would do—a very seductive case for leaving the railways as they are. In case that appeal does not succeed, however, the noble Viscount has fallen back on the old device of asking for another inquiry into the state of the transport of 78 the country. Whenever you want to shelve any difficult question or there is something you do not like—and I gather that the noble Viscount does not like the Government policy on transport—you ask for a special inquiry or a Royal Commission. As the noble Viscount knows, perhaps better than any of your Lordships, we have had a number of inquiries into the transport of the country. We have had an important Royal Commission on the railways, from whose Report I will venture to quote in a moment. More recently we have had two or three inquiries into the canals, and other inquiries into road transport. The data is all there; the facts are there; the case is well known.
We have had, moreover, the experience of the tests of two world wars, and however wonderful the railways were as regards the work done by their staffs and workmen under very difficult war conditions, the fact remains that in both wars it was necessary that the railways should, in effect, be taken over by the State and completely controlled by the Minister of War Transport. And I might remind your Lordships that the Governments who took that decision were not Labour Governments. The test of those wars, and the experience and knowledge we gained, led us each time to take that course. The reason was perfectly simple. Without complete co-ordination of railway traffic and, to a certain extent, of road traffic, we could not get the maximum efficiency which was required in war-time, All we are asking is that the same reasoning should apply now. We want to obtain the maximum efficiency from our transport for the good of the nation in peace-time. The noble Viscount does not want what he calls disturbance. He does not want the upheaval of this proposal. As regards the railways, it will not be such a great upheaval, and even as regards road transport the upheaval will not be very great, since it will be a fairly easy transition from zoning to the system which we are now to introduce.
May I quote for one moment from the Royal Commission on Railways? The Minority Report said this:One fundamental principle which emerges from our consideration of the problems, supported by evidence which has been accepted by the Commission as a whole, is that unification is a condition precedent to the complete co-ordination of transport. In other words, competition and co-ordination in a single area are incompatible.79 That is the Minority Report. The Majority Report said:Without unification, however it may be accomplished, no attempt to bring about co-ordination will be successful.The word "co-ordination" is a blessed word but I do not know a substitute for it. We have both used it in this case.
The short argument, which we put before the country at the General Election, is this: to get maximum efficiency in transport (and transport is the life-blood of the trade of the country, especially the export trade), you have to have unification or virtually a monopoly of rail plus road transport. It is wonderful how, when there is a Labour Government in office, we hear these proposals for a beautiful marriage between road transport and the railways. We hear no such proposal when the Conservatives are in power. This marriage of convenience between the road transport undertakings and the railway companies, with the railways controlling so many of the canal systems and so on, will mean a virtual monopoly. It is all very well for the noble Lord, Lord Portal, to say that the private trader can run and own his motor transport for the carriage of certain goods, but for the carriage of minerals and so on the railways have to be used. It will in effect be a monopoly. The whole question is this: Is that monopoly to be left in private hands or to be owned, managed and controlled for the good of the nation? That was the question we put before the electorate in the summer of last year. It was most prominent in our policy and in our Election programme, and the voters who gave us a majority voted for that very policy with their eyes open. When it is properly put to them, as I think events prove, it has the support of a very large proportion of the business men of this country. If there is to be a monopoly of the transport industry, and this I believe is considered necessary for efficiency, it must be under public ownership and control. That is the short case with regard to the railways.
The short additional case, if I may so call it, for taking over road transport is this. If we assume public ownership and control of the railways, as the noble Viscount, Lord Portal, knows very well, we shall automatically acquire with the railways a great many other properties as well, such as docks hotels, passenger 80 steamers and all sorts of things. We shall also acquire a very large holding in road transport. Can it be suggested that it would be a good policy for the Government to be in direct competition with the remaining private road hauliers? Because that is what would happen. Under the proposals of the noble Viscount, Lord Portal, the great private road haulier companies would be left free, and the Government, having taken over the railways, would then be in direct competition with the formerly railway-owned road transport undertakings. I think that consideration alone makes the case for taking over road transport with the railways unanswerable. The noble Viscount spoke of Wales being his spiritual home, of how the railway companies had done so much to help the industries of South Wales and how the hearts of railway company directors bled—
You are wrong, you are completely in error. I did not mention a single railway director. I did make reference to the fact that in Merthyr Tydfil industrial works would have been handicapped unless we had been able to lower the rates on the railways. But I never mentioned any director by name.
I am not making any attack on any particular director. I am talking of the policy of the railway companies, which I presume the board of directors control. I am certainly not going to make any attack on the noble Viscount, Lord Portal, because in the case I am going to quote I do not think he was then on the board of the Great Western Railway Company. Your Lordships will remember that three or four years before the war the Monmouthshire County Council and the Gloucestershire County Council promoted a Bill for the construction of a road bridge over the Severn, a road bridge which for years had been necessary and badly required. Everyone knows that the opposition to that Bill was organized and paid for by the Great Western Railway Company and the Bill for the construction of that road bridge was defeated. If that road bridge had existed during the recent war there could have been more war industries in South Wales, and we would have avoided the appalling bottle-neck through the Severn tunnel. As it was, either coal was taken through the Severn tunnel and all other goods were hung up, or other 81 goods were taken through the Severn tunnel and coal was hung up. Our war effort was hampered and injured by that bottle-neck, there being only one means of passage and that through the Severn tunnel. If that road bridge had been built, other goods could have gone by road, and the tunnel could have been used to carry coal traffic.
Why was there that opposition? The reason was that it was in the interests of the shareholders of the Great Western Railway Company. I do not say that the then directors included the noble Viscount, Lord Portal. He was otherwise engaged. The then directors were doing what was their duty to their own shareholders. One cannot blame them. They wished to avoid this competition in the crossings of the Severn, and one had that inevitable conflict. It is that sort of conflict which has again and again hampered transport development and transport co-ordination and therefore the whole wellbeing of the country. It is what we wish to avoid in the future and what we mean to avoid in the future.
§ THE EARL OF DUDLEY
I should like to say that I have been a member of the board of the Great Western Railway Company for sixteen years. I can assure my noble friend that this proposition was never brought before the board and was never countered by the will of the directors in any way, so I think that the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, is really wasting your Lordships' time by bringing in this matter.
The opposition to the Bill that came before Parliament was, I repeat, organized and paid for by the Great Western Railway Company. If the board of directors knew nothing about it, then they were neglecting their—
I am not at all. I am merely using this argument with regard to the Great Western Railway Company to answer the very cogent argument put forward by the noble Viscount, Lord Portal. He was talking about how the industries of South Wales had been helped. I dare say the industries of Merthyr Tydfil were helped by the Great Western Railway. I am entitled to quote this case to show that the whole industrial welfare of South Wales was hampered by the action of the 82 Great Western Railway Company in resisting the proposal to build a road bridge over the Severn. If none of the directors including the noble Earl, Lord Dudley, knew about it, I suggest they could not have been doing their duty, because that is what happened, and that sort of thing is bound to happen.
THE EARL OF RADNOR
Has the noble Lord got any evidence to show that the Great Western Railway Company opposed such a proposition?
It has been said that the directors knew nothing about it. I will produce the evidence.
There are two questions I should particularly like to ask the Lord Chancellor, who I understand is going to reply. I have taken the precaution of sending him notice of these questions. They relate to the whole scheme of bringing under public ownership and control the inland transport of this country. The two questions I should like to ask are whether this scheme will apply to coastal shipping, and whether it will apply to docks, because, as I mentioned just now, the railway companies own a great many of the main docks of the country and also some shipping as well. I have always understood that in inland or domestic transport we did include coastal shipping. There may be some room here for misunderstanding. The home trade so called does not necessarily mean only coastal shipping—that is, ships plying between Liverpool and Avonmouth or between Newcastle and London with coals. The home trade means to all the ports of Western Europe between the Elbe and Brest. A good deal of that is obviously deep-sea shipping. It was announced at the General Election as not being part of our policy to bring under national ownership deep-sea shipping. There is no proposal, so far as I know, to depart from that understanding, that deep-sea shipping is not to be interfered with, because of its special difficulties and special position. But the coastwise shipping, as apart from the general or home-trade shipping, is surely an integral part of our domestic transport system.
83 I do not know whether a decision has been taken on this point or whether it is convenient for the Lord Chancellor to reply. I would have thought, in view of the general inquiries and discussions that have taken place on this subject, that true coastal shipping should be included in general domestic transport. In any case, I suggest with great diffidence that a new definition is required differentiating between what I would call the home-trade shipping and the coast-wise shipping. Incidentally, ship-owners and seamen talk also of foreign shipping, not deep sea. There is no difficulty there. I think that a new definition is required in order that our minds may be quite clear on this matter. It may be that it is not intended to touch coastal shipping. I would only point out with regard to the Thames barges—those picturesque and useful craft plying all over the estuary as far afield as Colchester—that I would have said they were part of inland transport just as much as the motor barges which ply on the canals.
I am sorry the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition has left the Chamber for the moment, because he had an additional objection to that of the noble Viscount, Lord Portal, to our policy. I had the pleasure of listening to that part of his speech which assailed the policy under discussion at the moment, and his complaint was that the Government was keeping its promises to the electorate. He talked of promises coming home to roost, and of having trade union supporters who expected the promises to them to be redeemed. There are other colleagues of the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, opposite and I would only say that I am very glad he does find we are keeping our promises. If his Party had kept more of their promises to the electorate in the past they would be in a much stronger position than they are and would have been held in better repute by the electorate.
Suppose we are keeping our promises to our trade union supporters. These trade union supporters are railwaymen and transport employees. I suppose the men working in transport are one of the greatest single units of working people in the country. They are the people who are asking for nationalization of their industries, and they know where the shoe pinches. I think they are just as much 84 entitled to consideration and to have their views respected by the Government as those who are responsible to the share-holders of the railway companies and the transport companies. They are the men who are actually working the industries, and they are not afraid that these terrible things will come about if the Government takes them over and organizes them in the public interest.
I would like to say a word or two about the canals. I do not think the noble Viscount, Lord Portal, would defend the policy which has been followed in the past in regard to the canals, but no doubt he would now tell us that, like the road transport companies and the railway companies, they would do all they could to co-ordinate them and bring them up to greater efficiency and so on. "When the devil was sick, the devil a monk would be"—that means when the Labour Party is in power—"When the devil was well, the devil a monk was he." When they had the opportunity the railway companies bought up the canals and diverted the traffic to the railway lines, however uneconomical it might be. At the peak of their efficiency and prosperity the canals of this country carried 40,000,000 tons of goods annually. In 1938, the last year for which I have the figures, there were only 13,000,000 tons carried as opposed to that 40,000,000, and it was dropping. I do not really see how you can possibly expect a nation-wide reorganization and rehabilitation of the canal system, which I think is admitted to be desirable, unless you have the same authority as that responsible for the other means of transport in the country.
May I tell the noble Viscount, Lord Portal, and other of your Lordships who may be interested, that a very similar state of affairs is arising in the United States of America in regard to civil aviation. Owing to the special circumstances in the North American Continent, the growth of civil aviation has been phenomenal. If you go to one of the great airfields, having booked a passage, you find there a queue of people waiting in the hope that somebody will cancel his trip or that somebody will fall ill so that there will be a vacant place in the plane. The aviation companies are doing a roaring business. The railway companies are getting very upset about this, and I am informed that they have already 85 started a "lobby," as it is called in America, in Washington to try and curb the powers and limit the expansion of civil aviation, just as was done with the canals in this country with more success.
The truth is that under the present system we do not really get free competition. Take the case of the Port of Hull, which I had the honour to represent in another place for some years. They used to be squeezed and held down, as they thought, by the North-Eastern Railway Company. So the citizens of Hull put their money together and built an independent railway, the Hull and Barnsley Railway, so that they could have an alternative means of tapping the resources of the West Riding of Yorkshire. This was forty or fifty years ago and it was a very successful railway company. Under the Coalition Government after the first world war the Hull and Barnsley Railway was taken over by the North-Eastern Railway, and the unfortunate citizens of Hull were left once more to the tender mercies of the North-Eastern Railway.
There is no real competition with only four great railway companies. You have got to take it or leave it, and apart from appealing to the Railway Rates Tribunal the ordinary private individual really has no redress. Nor do I think the railway companies can really preen themselves on having been tremendously enterprising in developing the main transport systems of the country. Again I refer to the particular problem of Hull. There they wanted a bridge over the Humber to carry railway lines, years and years ago. It was pressed for and agitated for, but we could never get the London and North-Eastern Railway Company to support us or to make any move. Then there is a technical matter which I hesitate to venture upon, but I think I am on good grounds. There has been a good deal of electrification, on the Southern Railway particularly, but I think the noble Viscount, Lord Portal, would have to admit that a great deal more could have been done in the years between the wars for short haul. I also believe the noble Viscount will admit that we are rather behindhand in this country in the development of the Diesel locomotive. I think that should have been introduced many years ago, and that it would have brought about great improvements. The railway companies have not been very progressive in that direction.
86 The short story is, as I have already ventured to suggest to your Lordships, that the experience of two wars shows that we had to bring the railways under public ownership and control and also had to bring under public ownership and control the road transport companies to a very large measure, such as the zoning system. We could not get a proper pooling of rolling stock by any other means. Our case is that if that was right in time of war, from the point of view of making the best possible use of our existing transport systems to the advantage of the country, then we demand the same efficiency and the same advantages in peace-time, and we do not see how it can be done in fairness to the public in any other way than by the policy we are adopting.
§ 3.38 p.m.
THE MARQUESS OF READING
My Lords, I do not propose to follow the two noble Lords who have already spoken in their interesting journeys round either the inner or the outer circle, but to get back to the wider implications contained in the gracious Speech. A good many years ago a generally respected member of the then Labour Government was very sharply taken to task for replying, when challenged to fulfil certain promises, that he could not produce rabbits out of a hat. This Government, in the relatively short space of its life, has already shown itself extremely adept at producing rabbits out of a hat, particularly socialized rabbits out of a nationalized hat, because they have very quickly realized that the essence of a successful conjuring trick is that it must be performed so swiftly that the audience is unable to see what is going on; its attention must be distracted from reality and concentrated upon illusion.
It has already been said in this debate, and very truly, that the minds of the people of this country at the present moment are uneasy and uncertain. They had hoped so fervently when the war was over for a measure of security in place of so much upheaval. They had looked forward to a quiet mind and an assured future. To them the reality is food, fuel, clothing and housing. I find it very difficult to visualize the picture of the people of this country preparing to celebrate the great and glorious day when electricity and transport shall have been nationalized. I think their minds are on something which touches them a great deal more closely 87 to-day. Although, of course, I agree that a large majority of the country voted in favour of a Socialist Government, I think they did so very largely because, after the hardships of war, they were determined to make a fresh start and to break with the past. I think it was much more that determination than any abstract or indeed concrete passion for the doctrines of Socialism which led them to support the Socialist Government in the election.
I do not for a moment expect the Government to abandon their political programme; I do not expect them to withdraw from the various proposals which are set out in the document which, if my memory serves me correctly, is called "Let us deface the Future." What I am concerned with is that they should pay a little heed to a test which was of very general and very valuable application during the war—the test of priority—and that they should consider whether these measures which are incorporated in the gracious Speech are really those which are not only of the most immediate value but of the most permanent value to the general happiness and prosperity of the country.
There are a number of notable and unhappy omissions. I should have expected to find in the gracious Speech certainly some reference to a measure which was referred to in the course of yesterday's debate—the Criminal Justice Bill originally initiated by the noble Viscount, Lord Templewood. That is a far-reaching and far-sighted conception which has already been too long delayed in its appearance upon the Statute Book. It is, I suggest, a measure which any humane and progressive Government would be proud to be instrumental in putting upon the Statute Book in order that this country may, in this respect, recapture the position to which it is entitled amongst the advanced nations of the civilized world. Instead of that we find the nationalization of electricity and transport and a Bill to control the rates of exchange. I am not saying at this stage, before we have had the Bills, that nationalization either of electricity or of transport is in itself bad; what I am saying is that there are other and more urgent matters, especially as we were told yesterday the figures of the increased number of consumers of electricity under the present system and as we know perfectly 88 well that, for all practical purposes, the railways have been, for a number of years now, controlled and indeed practically subsidized, by the Government. That system might, perhaps, have been continued for a little longer in order to make room for more urgent matters to-day.
There is a further matter to which I attach considerable importance, and as to which we have had some discussions in your Lordships' House. I refer to the Bill (which many of us had hoped to see take its place in this gracious Speech) which is concerned with the procedure for bringing actions against the Crown. This is not a lawyer's fad. The absence of the required legislation on this matter works an irremediable injustice to a certain number of people, and to that extent it is a reflection upon the existing law of this country. What it means is that under present conditions because a person who is injured by falling into an open ditch happens to be so unwise as to fall into that ditch on Government property, he or she can bring no action for damages against the Government, however much it may have been due to negligence that he or she suffered that injury, whereas if it happened on the premises of a private firm or individual and negligence could be established, the victim would be entitled to damages.
That cannot be right. Indeed, only yesterday there was a case reported in which judgment was given by Lord Justice Scott (himself an ex-Law Officer) supported by Lord Justice Somervell who, until recently, was for many years the holder of the great office of Attorney-General. That judgment dealt with a case of this kind. Lord Justice Scott said that with the complexity of modern business carried on by Government Departments and the great increase in commercial concerns owned by the Government, it was a crying evil that legislation to remedy the position should not be passed by Parliament. He wished to express his opinion as strongly as possible that it would be a crying wrong if the necessary legislation was not introduced at an early date. That was followed up by the The Times newspaper—which was apparently once known as "The Thunderer" and which could now perhaps more aptly be described as "Thunder on the. Left"—in a leading article which said this: 89In the interests of justice the present position is untenable. The Crown Proceedings Bill has been in existence in draft form for many years, and the recent statement by the Lord Chancellor that it may be some years more before this measure can be introduced clearly requires the most urgent reconsideration.I think your Lordships will be in full agreement with the view so strongly urged by that leading article as well as by Lord Justice Scott. We have had some discussion about this Bill, but no place can be found for it. If I may say so, I am quite sure that the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack fought his hardest for the inclusion of this Bill in the gracious Speech, and it is unfortunate that on this occasion he was unable to convince his colleagues.
That surely is not all we might have hoped to see. A little while ago there was published the Curtis Report, which again requires some legislation. That Report contained features which must have shocked the conscience and horrified the imagination of many of us. At the same time, it is to be hoped that those instances will not be regarded as of general application and will not be held to invalidate or to reflect in any way upon the vast amount of valuable and beneficent work in those fields which is done every day of every year. But there were those abuses and one might have expected steps to be taken at the earliest moment, which is in this now begun Session of Parliament, to put those matters right. Again there were some very important recommendations contained in the Report of the Rushcliffe Committee as to the giving of legal aid to persons who could not afford it out of their own funds. That required implementation by Parliament, but there was no mention of it in the Speech.
I would point to one more omission. I am not defending or regretting the Trade Disputes Act of 1927, but the repeal of that Act has left a void in the law as regards trade unions, and that void must be a source of conflict and confusion until it is authoritatively filled. It was to be hoped that the Government would face up to the very considerable difficulties implicit in that task, and produce at this stage some measure which would clarify the doubts which at present exist. Instead of that there are various more theoretical exercises in legislation contained in the Speech which might well 90 have been dispensed with until a more opportune time.
Yesterday, in the course of the debate, the noble Viscount who leads the House said, in answer to the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, that because during the war a number of measures of a Socialistic character had been introduced, therefore that was reason to assume that they were good, or anyhow not necessarily bad, in time of peace. If I may say so respectfully, I believe that to be a complete misconception. People will steel themselves in war to all kinds of ardours and endurances which they are not prepared to face indefinitely for the rest of their lives, once the compelling motive has been removed. What I think we feel, and feel increasingly—by "we" I mean not the members of your Lordships' House, but the country at large—is that all these small restrictions, regimentations and interferences which impinge upon our daily lives are not yet within reasonable sight of even the beginning of the end. We had not expected to see them disappear overnight, but perhaps we did hope that by now, after eighteen months of somewhat unpeaceful peace, there might at least have been a turning of the tide. We did hope to see subtraction rather than multiplication.
One other thing in much the same connexion which I believe is widely felt, is that, perhaps by force of habit in the course of these years, austerity has passed from a painful necessity to a deliberate policy, and there is little to be looked forward to under that head. I say this frankly not in criticism of the Government, but by way of an appeal to the Government. I know the immense difficulties in many fields which confront them, but let them, after all this time, give some chance to the people of the country to live and work by their own efforts. Let them offer them something to buy with the proceeds of their own toil. Let them do something to restore to the people even a little measure of colour, of variety and of gaiety in their daily lives after the long and grim ordeal of war. Let them, however difficult it may be, give at least the appearance of trying to help in this direction and not persisting in the opposite course. Let them at least seem to give a chance to Gulliver, which is the nation, to stretch his limbs again and shake free from the multi 91 tudinous if minute bonds with which the Lilliputians of bureaucracy have during the past years enmeshed him unawares.
§ 3.55 p.m.
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF YORK
My Lords, as I understand there are a large number of speakers on this debate I put myself almost under a pledge to speak for not more than five minutes. I say this so that the House may excuse me if I seem rather incise and dogmatic in referring to three different subjects. First of all I welcome the intention expressed in the gracious Speech to introduce proposals to deal with compensation and betterment in relation to town and country planning. This is a measure long overdue. Many houses large and small are held up through the uncertainty of compensation, and that uncertainty will continue until the Government's proposals are made plain. I very much hope, therefore, that the Government will give a high priority to this measure among the other Bills which are now queueing up for admission to one or other of the Houses of Parliament.
I also welcome the statement that the Government will prosecute with the utmost vigour the task of providing suitable homes for the people of the country. There is a good deal of disappointment over the results so far, both over the number of permanent houses built in town and in country. I am quite certain that one of the chief difficulties in the way of speedier building is the very large number of Ministries who have to give consents before any builder is able to start his work. There are not only six Ministries which may have some word in any building scheme, but there are a large number of committees in connexion with local authorities. Sometimes as many as twenty or even thirty consents have to be obtained, though of course those numbers are exceptional. It was child's play to steer between Scylla and Charybdis to what it is to-day for the builder to steer through the rocks and shoals of the various Ministries concerned with housing. More and more I get a stronger feeling that if we are to go rapidly ahead with this most essential social reform then some organizer or director of housing must be given quite exceptional powers so as to hasten forward the building of houses.
There is a third matter to which I want to refer, and here I speak on behalf of the Bishops and, I think I can say, of the 92 Christian communities of this land. We are deeply concerned and distressed about the reports which have recently been received about conditions in Germany and, I will add, in Austria. The position seems to have worsened even since the debate which was held in this House a few days ago. Only quite recently it was hoped that it would be possible to raise the amount of daily calories, but now it seems as if it will be very difficult to continue even at the lower ration. The great northern newspaper the Yorkshire Post yesterday announced "Famine has commenced in the Ruhr", and The Times again and again has had articles from its correspondents pointing out how terribly dangerous the situation is. We all of us know and recognize that Germany, through the wickedness of her leaders and the blindness of her people, has brought this plight upon herself, but there would be a deep sense of humiliation and horror felt among the people of this country if, in the next weeks, thousands of people died in our zone through starvation. I hope the Government will make a definite statement to us as to what is the real position, for we have had contradictory accounts. I hope it may be a reassuring statement.
I hope, too, that they will see that the facts are brought home to the people of the United States, for it appears that one of the major causes of this crisis is the failure of the United States to send to us the corn for Germany which she promised. If there is a catastrophe, it is not right that this country should bear all the blame. I believe that if the American people knew the situation, that kindly and humane people would make tremendous efforts to meet the urgent needs of Germany. I hope very much, as far as this country is concerned, that though we have made great sacrifices, and are making great sacrifices, for Germany, the Government will explore every possibility of seeing if we can do something more to save Germany and Europe from a catastrophe which is simply horrible to contemplate.
§ 4.2 p.m.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
My Lords, I venture to address your Lordships' House for the first time and it is in no formal manner that I ask for that sympathetic indulgence which your Lordships 93 invariably give to one who faces this ordeal upon an initial occasion. The gracious Speech has outlined the proposals of His Majesty's Government to impose a peace-time conscription plan. That immediately focuses attention upon the urgent necessity for mobilizing our remaining resources in man-power for the commercial and economic battle which lies ahead. The case for conscription is made, and it needs no elaboration from me, but we shall not build the industrial future of this country, we shall not make good the ravages of war and of the locust years between the wars, with the manpower which has to be drafted into our fighting forces. That will only be done by the almost ruthless application of all our available resources for building up our industrial efficiency and increasing the productivity per head of our people until we once again become the workshop of the world.
What are our tasks? We have to rebuild our country, we have to rebuild its capital equipment, rehouse our people, refurnish their homes, and we have to increase our exports, we are told, by 75 per cent. over our pre-war figure. I would not quarrel if that estimate were lifted to 100 per cent. What are our resources in man-power to accomplish this task? Any sensible estimate seems to suggest that we shall be approximately 2,500,000 workers short of the desirable figures. I await with a keen anticipation the economic man-power Budget which is now, I understand, in course of compilation, under the direction of the right honourable gentleman, the Lord President of the Council. It is a prodigious task, but when fulfilled it will add immeasurably to our knowledge of what goes on in our economic system and of when and how our national resources are wasted or improperly used. There were many wastages of man-power resources before the war, brought about by the uncontrolled competition—the economy of the jungle which I am so glad has received so much condemnation from the noble Viscount, Lord Portal, this afternoon. There were too few of our working population who were producers, and far too many were occupied in non-productive activities. We had approximately 3,000,000 workers engaged in the distributive trades alone. There were 750,000 retail shops serving 12,000,000 families. All these were the consequences of this economy of unregulated competition.
94 How long can we afford to carry this burden, which not only widens the gap between the cost of production and the price to the consumer, but diverts workers from productive industries? How long can we afford to close our eyes to the multitude of intermediaries who erect their tollgates along the road from the producer to the consumer, each levying a toll for services of little or, in the majority of cases, of no economic value? We have got to find the way to divert our resources into productive channels. We can no longer afford the luxury of finding employment by digging holes and filling them up again, and there is no time to be lost.
We have purchased time with our American and Canadian loans, but in four years the date of payment will have arrived. That is the measurement of the breathing space we have been afforded. That is the period during which we have got to increase our exports by nearly 100 per cent. Fail in that, and the standard of living of our people will be lowered and all our plans for social security and betterment set at nought. At the present moment our export industries are operating in a seller's market. But the end of that is within measurable sight, and we shall once again have to face the keen onslaught of competition the bulk of which will come from America and will be of a pretty fierce character. Surely the happenings of this last week have at least inscribed some writing upon the wall. British industry will sell its goods in the future markets of the world not because they are British but because they are the best value. We have got to produce goods which the world requires—better goods and at prices competitive with the prices of our competitors. The ultimate test of efficiency in the future will be cost and price. Are our industrial policies being shaped towards that end? Are we to-day producing the goods, or planning to produce the goods, which will hold our exports at the desired level in four years time? Or are short-term expediencies obscuring our long-term vision? I have some knowledge of an industry which is contributing a major share to the total of exports to-day. But while the designers and technicians of that industry are hamstrung by a restrictive taxation system brought about by present-day expediencies, the British motor industry will 95 never contribute to the total exports to the full extent of which it is capable.
I should indeed be casting myself for the role of Benjamin criticizing Jacob if, so early in my life in your Lordships' House, I attempted to cross swords with the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne. But I listened with respectful attention to the advice which he gave your Lordships early in this debate—advice primarily directed at the noble Lords who sit on the Front Bench immediately below me—to read the works of the great historian, Trevelyan. I have read Trevelyan's Social History of England, but I do not need to go back to that time because seven days ago I listened, in company with many of your Lordships, to the Prorogation Speech which was read with such clarity and effect by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack. And as I listened to that record of social progress, comparable with anything the historian Trevelyan can write, I could not help but speculate as to the thoughts and emotions which must have surged through the mind of the noble Viscount who leads your Lordships' House with such distinction. He alone of His Majesty's present Ministers passed through that Gethsemane of the years immediately following the world war of 1914–1918. He saw his plans for social security and betterment shattered by an economic blizzard. Are we to tread that path again? The answer lies not in an attempt to scare the British public by bogies and stunts but by assisting the people to a realization of the magnitude of the tasks which lie ahead and in the courageous and imaginative leadership which His Majesty's Government must, and I feel sure will, give towards their successful accomplishment.
§ 4.16 p.m.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
My Lords, I am quite sure that your Lordships have listened with very great pleasure to the speech of the noble Lord who has just sat down. If I may say so with respect, I thought that it contained a very great deal of sound common sense. Up to a point in the noble Lord's speech, I was afraid that I might have to insult him by saying that it might have been delivered by one of the speakers who sit on the Benches opposite. He would not have taken that as a compliment, I know. However, the noble Lord quite avoided the necessity of my having to say any 96 thing of that kind by the comments he made on the speech of the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition. I am therefore in the happy position of being able to offer him sincere compliments on having made a sound speech from his own point of view, and I am sure that your Lordships will look forward to hearing him very often again.
I regret that I cannot offer the same compliments, if he will allow me to say so, to the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, on his speech. Talking of the railways, the noble Lord brought up the hoary old fallacy about the canals. That was only one of his points—I cannot deal with them all. He said the railways had bought up and deliberately neglected the canals. I thought that really anybody who knew anything about the history of the railways knew by this time that that is not true. Of course, the position was that in the days when the promoters had to acquire land for the railways there were not any easy methods for land acquisition. They had to take land on the terms which they could get, and often it included canals which they did not want. Quite often they had to undertake obligations to maintain these canals and those obligations they have scrupulously carried out, even though canals have proved to be a burden on the railways.
The noble Lord also said that the canals carried at the peak of their prosperity a great amount of traffic. True enough, they did until they were put out of business to a very large extent, by a more efficient means of transport. The noble Lord did not—as he might have done—tell your Lordships that the old stage coaches carried a lot of traffic during the peak period of their prosperity. They suffered, also, the fate of the canals. He said that railways had not been progressive in the period between the wars. I do not think he was very generous in saying that. The fact is that between the two wars the railways spent something like £450,000,000 on modernizing and improving their tracks. As to whether they were successful or not I think their record in the last war is proof. I think it is greatly to the credit of the railways that at a time when dividends had to be cut, when sometimes they were not paid at all, they found from their resources money to modernize their track and to make it capable of carrying the burden which was carried in the last war. Then we had 97 from the noble Lord a story about the terrible monopoly which overtook the Hull and Barnsley Railway.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
Oh, I thought the noble Lord said the railway was bought by the wicked L.N.E.R.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
Another of the noble Lord's points was that traders were distressed. Traders have never had more beneficial competition than that between the railways and road transport. What astonishes me is that the noble Lord who says that monopoly in the hands of the railways is such a wicked thing is now supporting the policy of the Government, which is to create a very much greater monopoly than was ever before in the hands of either the railways or anybody else. One other comment I must make on the noble Lord's speech. He stated that the great advantage of this proposal was that the Government would automatically acquire other properties. I could almost see the glint in the noble Lord's eye, as he enumerated all the lovely things which the Government were going to get—the docks and the hotels; all no doubt (if the noble Lord has his way) at much below the current value. If I may say so with great respect, I do not think that the rather ungenerous and rather spiteful advocacy of the noble Lord will cut much ice in your Lordships' House.
I desire to address my remarks to the phrase in the gracious Speech which deals with the acquisition of inland transport. I must tell your Lordships that to some extent I am an interested party, because I have been connected with one of the main line railways for some years. Nevertheless, I hope my main qualification to speak is an ardent desire to see the most efficient form of inland transport in this country. No one can exaggerate the importance to the prosperity of the country of inland transport. We have now an opportunity, such as has never existed before, to 98 secure the most efficient form of inland transport. The question of ownership is irrelevant. That is the first point I want to make. What matters is better co-ordination between road and rail; what matters is the efficiency of the services; what matters is the modernization of the services; what matters is that road and rail should each be able to perform the specialized services which they are best qualified to do, in proper co-ordination with one another. And, last but not least, what matters is to retain the healthy spirit of competition, which alone will give the best service of inland transport.
It is easy to forget that we are only picking up again an old problem. The problem with which we have to deal is, in its essence, how to co-ordinate road and rail. The problem there is the existence of the two different rate structures of the different industries. To remind your Lordships of the point I am making I need only recall the 1930's, with the great "Square Deal" campaign. With the rise of the road industry, the railways found themselves under such handicaps that they could not well carry on, and they asked the Government of the day for a square deal. Then the war intervened, and that problem was never dealt with. It still remains the problem to be tackled. Co-ordination of road and rail, by getting the two rate structures into such a form that the two industries can co-operate and compete on level terms, is the problem before the country; not the question of changing ownership. What does it matter who owns the railway stock? If there ever was a day when the railways were a monopoly, or there was abuse of the monopoly—and I am not concerned to admit or deny it—it was all in the days of our fathers and grandfathers, and it has long since gone. What matters now is to get the greatest advantage from all forms of modern transport, and to see that they work together in the public interest.
Railway rates are a fearsome and awful structure. I have a very slight hereditary interest in railway rates, because the great railway rates classification of 1888—I see the noble Lord opposite knows what I am talking about—was drawn up very largely through the labours of my father and Sir Courtenay Boyle who acted as special Commissioners for the Board of Trade. Even to-day, I can remember echoes of railway rates penetrating to the nursery. Your Lordships all know how 99 the railway rates classification works. Because the railways had a monopoly Parliament imposed upon them this tremendous system of classification and rating. Quite briefly, the system is that the traffic shall be carried for the rates which it can bear. Another way of putting that is that rates which the traffic cannot bear shall not be charged; in short in recognition of their monopoly the railways undertook to take the rough with the smooth. That does not apply only to rates and carriage. The railways always had not only to be ready to carry goods, however difficult, or inconvenient, or unremunerative; they served areas which in themselves were not densely populated, and which by themselves would not have been remunerative.
The system worked all right as long as the monopoly lasted, but then there arose the great road industry based on a system where traffic is carried at rates based on cost. The road industry can compete with the railways in the higher classifications with the most deadly effect. They can take the cream of the traffic. Obviously in the higher classifications of goods, where the value is high in relation to bulk, the railway rates are higher and road rates are lower. In the low classifications, such as minerals, coal and raw materials, the railways are left with the less remunerative traffic, because it is not suited to the roads. But, be it remembered, the carriage of those raw materials at low rates is essential to the national economy and to the national interests. In consequence, of the two alternatives which lie before the railways—if they are to pay their way under conditions of open competition with the roads—they can adopt only one. One alternative is to raise the rates of the low classifications, which would be greatly against the national economy. The other is that they must be assured of a reasonable share of the higher classification traffic.
The fact is that the Act of I92I, which settled railway matters after the last war, was out of date before ever it was on the Statute Book. The great road transport industry had arisen, and it was not fully realized what it would mean to the railways. Nevertheless, in the twenty-five years since 1921—the railways, I think, were actually amalgamated on a date in 1923—there have been created four homogeneous great main line companies. Our 100 view—and this is relevant to public ownership of all transport—is that these entities are big enough already, if not too big. The number of employees of the L.M.S. is 245,000. On the L.N.E.R. the number is very nearly 200,000, and I believe I am right in saying that those figures are larger than those of any single American railway company. Nevertheless, I maintain that through those twenty-five years efficient homogeneous units have been built up, and any step of wider merger is fraught with the gravest danger of incompetence and loss of efficiency.
Let me give your Lordships two examples where I think that result must inevitably follow. The system of a great railway company is to have highly-skilled technical officers in charge of the departments. These men, because of their skill, are highly paid. They report to committees of the boards, who are men of business experience and who scrutinize with, may I say, a skilled eye, the proposals which the officers of the board put up. In turn, those committees report to the board, and altogether the practical proposals for spending money in these companies undergo a skilled scrutiny. Much depends upon those highly-paid technical officers. What is to become of them? Are they all going to be reduced to the civil servant level? Perhaps all the civil servants will be raised to their level! But there is a real question of administration which does seem to me to afford very great difficulty.
Secondly, dealing with incentive, from a quite different angle, but I think, nevertheless, an important one, the road transport industry, which is also to be nationalized, consists at the moment of 6O,OOO independent hauliers. They have an average, I believe, of something between two and three lorries apiece. It is impossible to convince me that incentive to efficient service will not be removed from those thousands of men once this wicked, much-maligned motive of profit no longer exists. What is wanted to-day for the road transport industry is not nationalization but rationalization, and that is a thing we have never been allowed to have. To-day we have the opportunity to get this rationalization, and because rationalization may have had rather a sinister significance for some of the noble Lords on the Benches beside me—in 101 times of slump I think rationalization used to be a euphemism for cutting down staff—I will tell your Lordships what I mean by rationalization in this connexion. Firstly, closer co-ordination with the roads; secondly, elimination of over-lapping and duplication; thirdly, closer integration of finance of the main line companies. That integration of finance is necessary if the major economies are to be effected, but it is a very different thing from a complete administrative fusion.
Lastly, the fourth thing that we want under rationalization is to retain healthy competition. That competition is of two kinds. There is what I may call the competition of enterprise, such as exists between the great main line companies. We must also retain competition of service which can continue even inside co-ordination between road transport and rail, and which must inure to the benefit of the public and of the trader. Much closer working than in the past is visualized between the four main line companies. There is all the difference in the world between technical, operating and financial co-operation, and complete administrative fusion. Overlapping and duplication can be eliminated and yet a healthy and stimulating competition retained. All these benefits, I believe, are within our grasp, and it would be regulated competition and not unregulated competition with which some noble Lords have found fault.
I turn for a moment to put before your Lordships what I and what the board of the London and North Eastern Railway Company believe to be a practical alternative to public ownership. I should like to say that this is not in any sense a death-bed repentance under threat of nationalization. I first heard of this scheme as long ago as the autumn of 1940. Many of your Lordships who were in or near London have reason to remember where they were in the autumn in 1940. I remember very well that I happened to be thrown into daily contact with several of my colleagues and with technical officers of the London and North Eastern Railway Company and, oddly enough, we, too, said: "Let us face the future". And when we faced the future—if noble Lords here will believe me—we did not come to the conclusion that the best future for us lay in public acquisition by the Government.
102 We found when we faced the future that there were two great difficulties which would confront the railways after the war. These were, first, the handicap of unequal track costs as between rail and road, and, secondly, the prospect of difficulty in raising capital at the very finest rates of interest. Dealing first with the question of capital, the prospect of vast new capital undertakings involves a very large amount of money. It is important that capital should be raised at the lowest possible rate, and that is an implicit feature of the plan which I am about to lay before your Lordships. I would briefly mention this question of track costs, because that really is the fundamentally important point which must be grasped if this scheme is to be considered on its merits. The original cost of the main line tracks may be taken to have been about £800,000,000. If we take interest on that at 4 per cent. that means £32,000,000 a year, which remains as a burden on the railway companies. The road haulage businesses have no parallel burden at all.
The history of the roads in this country is an enthralling one. I only wish I could detain your Lordships to say something about it. As your Lordships know, the Romans were the first people who did our great road building, but in the beginning of the nineteenth century, when roads began to be more important with the development of the country, road development was undertaken by turnpike trusts. I found, on looking into it, that the turnpike trusts were only concerned with a very moderate state of repair, and when mechanical invention came along, and there was a danger of heavy transport, the turnpike trusts were much more occupied to keep traffic off the road than to incur the expense of making roads fit for it. Consequently, the time came when the turnpike trusts were wound up. They were wound up and liquidated either by bankruptcy or by assumption of the burdens by the taxpayer and the ratepayer. Anyway, that burden has gone, and the road haulage industry does not have to bear the burden of interest on the original cost of their roads.
The second point which contributes to the unequal track costs is the question of signalling. Signalling and safety precautions cost the railways £6,500,000 a year. No similar burden rests upon the roads, and it is worth noting in passing that the Government Actuary has 103 officially given the figure of the cost to the community of road accidents for the years 1935–1938 as £50,000,000. A very small part of that burden falls upon the roads. The railways have to signal their tracks and, quite rightly, are made to take the most stringent precautions against accidents. Thirdly, there is the burden of local rates. The railways pay something like £4,500,000 in rates on their track. No similar burden of rates obviously rests upon the road hauliers, and I may mention in passing that of the £4,500,000 75 per cent. goes back to the trader in the form of rate rebates. I say these are unfair burdens as between one industry and another.
§ LORD QUIBELL
Would my noble friend maintain that to put and run a bus on the highway does not itself constitute a capital charge?
§ LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
The noble Lord's point is a good one and I will deal with it in a moment. The point I was making is that there is no question here of an industry which has been put out of business and its capital lost, like that of the stage coach owner. Everyone knows that the railways are essential to the national economy. We must maintain our railways. There were people, at the time of the "Square Deal" campaign, who said: "That is nonsense. The railways are finished. Let them go. The capital is lost." That is not so. We must have an efficient railway system. Consequently the real point is not that we have to write off the capital sunk in the railways but that we have to try and see how we can make the most efficient use of the capital which is there.
The noble Lord referred I think to the relative burden on the road industry of petrol tax and licence duty. I will give him some figures. In the case of the railways—my figures are for the year 1938—one-third of the whole of the gross receipts goes in maintenance of track and remuneration of capital. In the case of the road hauliers' industry the contribution to the Exchequer in licence and petrol duty is one-eighth of the traffic receipts. That is a good illustration of the unequal burden of cost: one-third in the case of the railways and one-eighth in the case of the road hauliers. It is worth mentioning, too, that of the contribution made to the Exchequer from licence and petrol 104 duty, approximately thirty per cent. only comes from the commercial road hauliers' industry; the rest comes from private people owning motor cars and motor cycles. The London and North Eastern Railway scheme has been criticized on the ground that it means only another subsidy. If that is a subsidy, then the road industry has already had a subsidy. But the subsidy, such as it is, would not go to the railways, for under our scheme the whole of it would be devoted to the reduction of rates and would consequently redound to the benefit of the trader. The trader would get the same benefit in his railway rates as he has already had in his road rates.
What is the detail of the scheme which the board of the London and North-Eastern Railway Company have put forward? It is quite simple, and it is this. The Government would acquire the track of the railways and would stand to the railways in the relationship of landlord to tenant. Landlord and tenant would have each their duties and their rights. Payment for the assets handed over—that is the track—would be made in Government stock. Our suggestion is that some impartial tribunal should examine and assess the amount of the payment which should be made. The result would follow that the railways would hold a block of Government stock—I do not mention a capital sum, because I think capital sums are confusing in this connexion—on which they would, of course, receive interest, in exchange for the assets with which they had parted. They would then pay a rent to the Government for the track which they would continue to operate, and the rent would be a figure lower than the interest received on the Government stock. That would be a figure which it would be the duty of the impartial tribunal to assess—it might be £5,000,000, £6,000,000 or £7,000,000, for the sake of example. The whole of that amount would go in reduction of railway rates. It cannot be maintained that that is a subsidy to the railways. It would be precisely parallel to the passing on of this other kind of rates—local rates—the operation of which is familiar to many of your Lordships. I would not call it a subsidy. If I had to call it anything, I would call it an alleviation—an alleviation of a very difficult situation.
The Government stock which would be handed over would be blocked; it would 105 not be put on the market, and it would not be sold except in so far as it might be necessary for the railways to realize the stock in order to pay the expense of new works and to meet new capital expenditure. The Government, as landlord, would quite clearly have certain rights of control and consultation. In the way I have explained the two great difficulties which face the railways, and indeed I think transport in general, would be overcome. With Parliamentary powers we should be able to co-ordinate with road transport, and we should have capital at the cheapest rate, the benefit of which would inure to the trader and the passenger; and any difficulties there are about capital—they may be greater for the London and North-Eastern Railway than for others, for reasons which I need not go into—would be solved.
With those conditions we are prepared to face the unfettered competition of the C licence holder. As has been said, the existence of the C licence holder is the greatest safeguard against monopoly we can have. If a trader has the right to run his own trucks anywhere he likes, he cannot be squeezed between the upper and nether millstones of any monopoly. I would ask the Government to consider whether that scheme is not worth looking into, even at this late stage. It is not as though the railways have ever had a chance to get a square deal. We never got a square deal, and now is the time to see whether we cannot get this co-ordination.
There are two great advantages to the Government which I venture to suggest would follow. We all admire the ingenuity with which the Chancellor of the Exchequer pursues his policy of cheap money. If the whole transport industry is to be acquired, a very large amount of money will have to be raised. The replacement cost of the railways at to-day's prices, I suppose, might be £2,000,000,000. I am not so sanguine as to suggest that that is the price the Government is likely to pay, but, judging purely from what I see in the newspapers, a figure of £1,000,000,000 seems to be, so far as the newspaper scribes can judge, within the range of practical possibility. Then there is the whole of the capital sunk in the road industry. I have not the remotest notion what that may be, but it must run into a great many million 106 pounds. On top of this immense capital sum which would have to be raised will come the need for raising capital for future developments. They are going to be formidable. I may tell your Lordships that new works have been approved by the board of the London and North-Eastern Railway amounting to over £50,000,000. We have a priority programme of, I think, £25,000,000, but there are urgent works of £25,000,000 more. Our programme for new locomotives, carriages and wagons for five years will cost £50,000,000. Electrification schemes, particularly in London, will cost tens of millions of pounds, and new tubes and railways in London (a substantial part of which will be due to works in connexion with the L.N.E.R.) will amount to another enormous sum.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer must surely welcome the opportunity to be relieved of the burden of adding to Government indebtedness these enormous sums of hundreds of millions of pounds. Why should the Government not adopt this scheme, if only as a first step—because, after all, it would be a step—towards nationalization? The Government would become the owners of the track. The Government ultimately can take a monopoly, if they think it necessary, and we emphatically do not think it necessary at present. This has the great advantage, from the Government's point of view, that while we try it out—while we try, with the best will in the world, to see what we can do—the equity shareholders of the railway will take the risk. Why should the Government wish to take the risk of great financial loss until they see how the thing is going to work? We are quite willing to take the risk because we believe that, given the square deal which this would give to us, we can earn the revenue necessary to keep us alive.
I do not know for what ills nationalization is a remedy. It may be that it is a remedy for the ills of bygone days when the railways perhaps abused their monopoly position; I do not know. However, whatever it is a remedy for now, I believe that it is worse than the disease. I think one noble Lord has said that this step, if it is taken, is irretrievable. Once these eggs are scrambled, they cannot be unscrambled. I acquit the Government of wanting to scramble the eggs merely for the sake of scrambling them, but still 107 I do not believe there is any reason for this nationalization other than an ancient shibboleth. We railways are rapidly reaching the stage where we are a public service. The road service is younger in experience than we are. Evolution is proceeding and I ask the Government not to jump all their fences till they see whether this evolution will not achieve the desired result. Finally, may I put forward one last thought which may appeal to the commercially-minded members of the Government? Give us a chance and if we fail you will be able to buy us up at a break-up price.
§ 4.54 p.m.
§ LORD RUSHCLIFFE
My Lords, I do not propose to take up more than a very few minutes of your Lordships' time. I rise to express my own personal deep regret that no place has been found in the gracious Speech for a Bill to implement the recommendations of the Committee on legal aid and legal advice. That is a point which has already been referred to by the noble Marquess, Lord Reading.
This Committee, as your Lordships may remember, was set up in the summer of 1944 by the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, and when he set it up he asked me, as Chairman of it, to regard the matters which were submitted for our consideration as being most important and most urgent. Acting on that request, we began to take evidence in the following September. By February we had made our Report; it was then sent to the printers and it was laid in May. The Committee was described by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack as an exceptionally powerful and well-balanced Committee. Its report was unanimous and that seems to me to add enormously to the value of its recommendations. It was very well received in both Houses of Parliament and it was very well received outside. Beyond any doubt at all, it aroused expectations and hopes in the minds of many people, who are waiting and hoping for its implementation. We were greatly encouraged in February of this year by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, who stated in this House that, subject to certain preliminaries, he would press forward in the matter.
I only want to say that these proposals are designed to help very poor and very defenceless people who, by reason of their 108 poverty, are unable to obtain adequate advice and unable to bring their grievances before the Courts. I think the fact that no place has been found in the gracious Speech for a Bill to implement these recommendations will be—I do not think I am putting it too highly, judging from my correspondence, which has been voluminous—regarded with consternation. I rise only for the purpose of asking the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack if he will be good enough to give some indication of what the Government's attitude is on this matter.
§ 4.58 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT SIMON
My Lords, I will endeavour also to confine what I want to say almost entirely to one matter. I should like at once to support what has just fallen from my noble friend Lord Rushcliffe. I very much regret that owing to the size of the sessional programme we do not find in the most gracious Speech any indication of any measure which comes, as it were, from the Lord Chancellor's Department. I know full well that it is not due to any want of zeal on his part and he, I think, will willingly admit that it is not because there are not very urgent things to be done. It really is a great pity.
This matter has been referred to by my noble friend Lord Reading. Do your Lordships realize that it is now clearly established, as our law stands, that there is a class of case in which a claim would arise were it not for the fact that the Crown was the occupier of premises, but in which the injured person—or, if he is killed, his relatives—have no remedy at all? It is the case in which an occupier admits an individual to his premises by invitation, or by permission, or because it is in the course of duty, and where that individual, crossing the occupier's premises—it may be open ground or it may be inside the walls of the factory—is injured, it may be seriously, because of some trap, some open and unfenced space. If that happens in the case of anybody other than the Crown, if it happens in a private factory, the occupier of the factory is liable at once. An occupier is not allowed to permit people to enter, or invite them to enter, or know that they are entering, on lawful business and then leave them to fend for themselves if in some obscure corner there has been an unfenced or unguarded staircase or even 109 a trench in the ground. Hundreds of thousands of such claims have been settled between a private employer and a claimant, but if the occupier is the Crown—and they are occupiers of many premises, not merely dockyards, but many factories and all sorts of places—it is literally the case at this moment that the injured person has no remedy at all. That has come quite prominently before those who are interested in those matters within the last few weeks. I do think it is a most dreadful scandal that we should not find time to put that right, because there is no possible dispute as to the injustice of it. I would sooner see it put right as a special case rather than it should not be put right at all.
The second matter which is also really most urgent is the one referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Rushcliffe. It is not true that there is one law for the rich and another for the poor. We have got a perfectly independent Judicature which deals with perfect justice as between people in different positions. Indeed, it takes very good care to see that the poor litigant gets every possible chance. But the difficulty is that very poor people are constantly in sad need of wise advice. They need it badly. The issue of a writ served on some poor woman may frighten her out of her life and cause her to make payments which she ought not to make, just because she has never been told how the matter really stands. The subject of helping poor litigants in Court was the basis of my noble friend's committee. By common consent the result of that inquiry has been to produce a most valuable scheme which was issued last February. I know the Lord Chancellor expressed on behalf of the Government his warm appreciation, and I notice that he said four times over that these recommendations were accepted. I understand how hard my noble and learned friend is pressed, but I do with great respect ask whether nothing can be done with regard to these two matters within the range of legislation this year. They cannot be seriously opposed, and they are both of enormous importance to poor people.
I would just add one word before I come to my main topic. Fortunately, in this House we do not have to proceed under the rule that only the Government can introduce business. Private members of this House have an equal right, and I 110 have wondered a little whether it would be of any assistance to my noble friend—whose heart I know is entirely in these matters—if a private member like the noble Lord, Lord Rushcliffe, or myself, or anybody you please, were to introduce these measures as a matter of private members' legislation. Naturally, it could be taken over by the Government at any time they choose. I do not think for a moment that my noble friend would resent it—in fact, I am sure he would not. I believe he would perhaps be glad. Without occupying any more time with it, I desire only to say that if that method were a method which commended itself to him you may be sure there are several of us who are under his immediate commands for that purpose.
May I just make two disconnected remarks before I deal as briefly as I can with the topic which I have set myself to examine? I would like to say one word about India, because there is a paragraph in the gracious Speech about it. It is not very long ago that my noble friend Lord Salisbury, the Nestor of this Assembly, put a question to the Secretary of State and asked when we were going to get fuller information about what is really happening in India. I think we all must agree that although there have obviously been a series of most terrible events the matter has received very little attention and it has not been the subject of any sort of Government announcement.
Murders and extensive riots which, according to the newspaper, frequently involve enormous loss of life, appear to have occurred. British soldiers were called in and they used very extreme methods to try to suppress such disturbances. I have even read in a most responsible newspaper that in one Province in India it had been announced that looters would be shot at sight. I assume that is under some regulation, although I have not a notion of what it could be. Would it not be only right that we should get from the Government some information, such as telegrams which they have received, that we might be informed as to what has really happened? I think we ought to receive some such information. I have no doubt that my noble friend Lord Salisbury, if necessary, would move for Papers. We ought to have that information before we have a general debate on the Indian situation, because I cannot believe it is right that we should 111 continue in this silence and ignorance when events so important are in fact happening in that distant part of the world.
I would like to make one simple observation, and one only, on the international situation, although I will not enter upon it any further than this. Nothing could be more tangled and perplexed, and I feel that we ought, all of us, from all sides, to say that not only our good wishes but our confidence are reposed in the Foreign Secretary. Perhaps a former Foreign Secretary who, in the days of the Disarmament Conference, constantly warned Parliament that we had disarmed to the edge of risk and that unilateral disarmament could be no contribution to peace—sentiments which were by no means welcomed by the then Opposition—may be forgiven for reminding your Lordships that within the last few days Mr. Bevin has acknowledged the risk that we were then running. At the Lord Mayor's Banquet on Saturday the Prime Minister, amidst universal cheers, declared that our disarmament cannot be unilateral.
Now I come to the matter upon which I want to spend a few minutes. I will try not to be too long, because we all want to hear the Lord Chancellor. I want to call attention to the controversy which arose yesterday across this table between my noble friend Lord Cranborne and the Leader of the House on the question whether the trend of Socialist policy threatens individual liberty and individual enterprise. I am sure there are noble Lords sitting opposite, as there are political friends of theirs outside, who agree that such a proposition is all stuff and nonsense. Yet they perhaps will be willing to listen for a few moments to why it is that some of us think the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, may be right. Let me first of all, in the most summary way, state quite uncontroversially what the two arguments were. My noble friend Lord Cranborne's argument was this, and I have taken it from Hansard and not embroidered it in any way. He said that in his opinion the Socialist policy threatens individual liberty. He said the restrictions and regulations were carried so far that they deprived the ordinary citizen of free choice. He said that the fact of nationalizing a series of industries, combined with the repeal of 112 the Trade Disputes Act, threatens to deprive the individual workman of his status as a free and independent citizen. He said that there was danger in this, and the danger was that we might reach a stage where we have to comply with Government orders in peace-time, and, indeed, there was even danger that the Government policy, if the wilder spirits had their way, would come to be largely dictated by a powerful organization outside Parliament itself. That was his contention.
With equal faithfulness, I have transcribed and summarized the arguments of the noble Viscount, Lord Addison. Lord Addison blandly replied that he saw no danger at all. The only controls, he said, are controls to secure fair distribution of short supplies. He said Lord Woolton consulted a trade union committee on food regulations, and Mr. Chamberlain and Mr. Churchill during the war both directed various Departments that they should consult trade unions in advance on matters of concern to trade unions. Lord Addison went on to say—a very soothing assurance—that we could sleep quite comfortably in our beds, we were making a great fuss about nothing, and we could leave the present Government to protect our individual liberties. I believe I can be said to have stated these contrasting contentions without the slightest colour or prejudice on the one side or the other. I want to spend a few minutes considering which of the two contentions is right. The first thing which I think might be observed is this. War-time regulations, as my noble friend Lord Reading said just now, were endured, but they were plainly restrictive of personal liberty and most seriously so. Nobody would have dreamed that such restrictions as existed during the war could have been imposed in time of peace before the war. The truth is that under the pinch of war you have to leave yourself in the Government's hands. I think we were very wise to do so, and it was a Government, I am glad to think, that included all Parties. We were, as Lord Cranborne said, a beleaguered fortress, and it was to save the existence of the nation itself that we accepted the very grievous restrictions of personal liberty, but we always regarded these restrictions as strictly temporary. Let me remind your Lordships that the Emergency Act itself had to be renewed 113 by Parliament every year. I think there was a very strong belief that we could not get rid of all these restrictions at once, and that undoubtedly the period immediately following the war would be so abnormal that some of them would have to remain. Still, we all thought there would be a relaxation and a reduction rather than a multiplication and no particular determination. Contrast with that the fact that one of the first acts of the Socialist Government, who came in after the war had been won, was to get rid of this idea of twelve months being the period for this authority. They insisted upon a Bill which gave authority for making regulations of many kinds for a period of five years.
That was the first indication of a change, but I am more concerned with the second consideration. Listening to Lord Addison yesterday, as I did with great attention for he made a most ingenious—I will not say plausible—speech. He argued in effect that if these drastic socialistic powers were necessary in war, how does it happen that they should be necessarily harmful after the war? I must say I regard that as a most dangerous form of argument; it seems to me to threaten our liberties in the most fundamental way. One of the noble Lords on this Bench said to me afterwards that it is very much like saying that, because a considerable part of our population slept every night in shelters during the war, there was no manifest reason why they should not sleep in them for the rest of the time. What I felt was difficult in Lord Addison's approach was that he did not seem to see the fundamental distinction between the two things.
My noble friend mentioned the passage in the King's Speech promising that there would be exchange control legislation, apparently permanent though I do not know. I have nothing at present to say in criticism of it but what I want to call attention to is the way in which Lord Addison dealt with it. This is literally the way he dealt with it. He told how Lord Cranborne expressed shock at hearing of this proposal but, said the Leader of the House, "why should you be shocked? Surely the shock must be wearing off a bit because exchange control is what has been happening for six years past and we are getting used to it." Surely it is a most fallacious and most dangerous argument to say, because we have accepted restrictive regulations for the period of the war, 114 and for the purposes of winning the war, that nobody need be shocked because they go on after the war and that we ought to be quite used to them. I protest, with great respect, against that line of argument.
Take the case of industrial freedom. Put three things together and consider what is the fair conclusion to be drawn. This Government has repealed the provision in the previous Act that it was unlawful for public authorities to make it a condition of employment, or of the continuance of employment, that a man should be, or should not be, a member of a particular trade union or of any trade union at all. That was the law until the other day. It was manifestly designed to protect certain people's liberty of choice. That is one thing. Now combine that with this—that the avowed object of nationalization is to reduce the opportunities of a man for alternative employment in his trade, because the industry nationalized is going to be nationalized as a whole. If you are a railway man there would be no railway undertaking to apply to, if the Railway Bill were to pass, except the new transport organization. If you are employed in any industry there will be only one employer to whom you may look.
Add to that a third thing, that, in the same Bill, contracting out was substituted for contracting in. What was the object of that, the honest object of that? There really can be no dispute, I should have thought, that the object was to create a position in which it can be said to an individual workman, who may be, for all I know, an obstinate, independent wrong-headed person: "If you do not subscribe to the political fund"—and the political fund, of course, will support the Labour Party which is the richest political Party in the State—"then you shall be a marked man. You may become, of course, a broken man." If you put those three things together—the repeal of the provision that public authorities should not make this test, the policy of nationalizing industry after industry so that there is only one employer, and the provision that before a man can escape paying the levy he must contract out—is it very unreasonable that some of us, whether right or wrong, should feel that this is a somewhat serious invasion of the rights of a private citizen? Of 115 course, if you say openly: "I do not consider that he ought to have such a right. I consider that everybody who is employed should belong to the union which is favoured," that is another matter. We can discuss it on that basis, if you please. But it did seem to me, with great respect to him, that the noble Viscount opposite did not make a very effective answer to my noble friend Lord Cranborne on this point. The noble Leader of the House says: "What liberties have we interfered with?" I say, "You have interfered with that one."
The closed shop was mentioned. Frankly, I should be sorry to be set an examination paper to define exactly what it means, and I notice that neither in this House nor, I think, in the other, has any Minister ventured to try to give a definition. The Minister of Labour, I think, rather avoided it, but by way of anticipation—and here may I express the hope that, in this I may have the support of the noble and learned Lord Chancellor—may I say that whatever a closed shop means in industry it is extremely ridiculous to try to compare that situation with the situation that obtains in certain professions—for example, the Bar, the solicitors' profession and the medical profession. The two things have no possible connexion at all. The reason why in professions like those I have mentioned there is a strict rule that a member of the profession must belong to an organization is primarily for purposes of discipline. My noble friend the Leader of the House, who knows the medical profession very well, is aware of that. The second reason why a member of the profession has to belong to an organization is to secure that there shall be an adequate standard of skill and that people should not call themselves, let us say, "doctors" until they have passed the necessary tests. The only thing in industry which I think is in any way analogous to that is the very sensible trade union rule, which certainly obtains in many directions, that a man must have been an apprentice, that is to say that he must have gone through certain years of training, before he can be recognized as a fully qualified workman. I speak subject to correction on this point, but I think that that is right. But really it is absurd for anybody—they would hardly do it in this House and I do not think they would 116 do it in the House of Commons—it is really absurd for anybody even speaking at a street corner on a Sunday evening, to make that comparison in dealing with the question of the closed shop.
Meanwhile, the policy of nationalization goes on. As my noble friend Lord Cranborne said, there was nothing very much to show for it when the process had already been carried through. I am afraid that those who thought that coal production would be greatly increased if once the miners felt that they were operating under the ægis of the State rather than working in a particular colliery undertaking for profit—profit, by the way, which amongst other things enters largely into the calculations of their wages—must be disappointed. My noble friend Viscount Samuel, I think, said there may be a certain change of tempo. It is noticeable that the iron and steel industry, after all the fuss we have had, does not appear in the King's Speech at all. I wonder why. I think I am right in saying that up to the present the Government in pursuing their nationalization policy have not been very eager to nationalize the export trades. I think I can see why. The export trades, and still more the recovery of the export trades, depends on energy and enterprise, on taking risk and on exercising the finest judgment, and the Government would appear to me to be very rash at this time of day who said: "We can do that export business better than private enterprise."
It is so ridiculous to compare these highly skilled and necessarily competitive efforts with the Post Office. The essence of the Post Office is that it produces a regular service, a service as a result of which you should know what you mean when you write in a letter: "Expecting your answer by return of post." A postman who ran and delivered letters hours before you expected them would be as great a nuisance as a postman who never started. It is of the very essence of that kind of undertaking that you should get a regular service. And while I, myself, regard the ancient formula that what should be aimed at is the nationalization of all means of production, distribution and exchange, not only as a pestilential heresy but as a proposition which is incapable of being achieved, I think the Government are very wise in keeping their hands, at present, off these more difficult cases. My noble friend Lord 117 Sandhurst quoted some observations which, I think he said, were made by the Lord President of the Council speaking on the other side of the water. The Lord President emphasized that the test in these cases must be the test of efficiency. I should like to have that said by direct authority, with equal clearness, here at home. I find it quite impossible to think that we are going to secure in most of these cases greater efficiency. We may secure many things, but how can we possibly secure that?
There are people who say, and it has been said so often—even to-day, I noticed—that, after all, nationalization will bring public control. There is a sense, however, in which public control is only to be secured under conditions of private enterprise. If you have a series of establishments competing with one another for custom, each no doubt trying to please and satisfy his clients, what happens? After a time you may find, in the case of one establishment, that you are not being well served. You may find, as people sometimes find in Government Departments, that your letters are not answered for weeks and weeks. You may find that you are told: "That is all we can give you. You will have to take that or nothing." In that case, the public—that is, you and I, and all of us—say to the establishment: "If that is the best you can do, I shall go to another and rival establishment." That is public control. The customers of the establishment really do control what it does, and by that means they do get good service. If we substitute for that a process by which we take these matters and put them into a single Government institution, who among us will say to the almighty and monopolistic enterprise: "I will not deal with you, I will go elsewhere"?
I believe there is a large measure of fallacy in the use of these general phrases. Whilst I certainly concede that there are cases in which nationalization may be right, and I certainly concede that at this time there may be occasions when regulations have to be continued, I would most respectfully answer the question which was put across the table yesterday: "Where are these limits being put by the Government on individual liberty?" I say that they are being put on individual liberties by such actions as those to which I have referred to-day. The truth is—I submit it in all humility, but with very great con 118 viction—that a Socialist State, backed by an army of civil servants, working through water-tight Government Departments, is not free democracy at all. With great respect, I say that the Leader of the House is wrong when he tells us on this side that we may sleep happily in our beds and leave it to this Socialist Government to protect personal liberties. It will be very much better if we keep awake, and do what we can to protect them ourselves.
§ 5.33 p.m.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, I will say a few words in regard to the speech to which we have just listened, before I come to deal with other matters of even greater moment. It is quite obvious from what the noble and learned Viscount has said that in his view a Socialist State—or indeed any measure of planned economy—interferes with individual freedom and is therefore bad. He would prefer the sort of situation which we had in 1933 or 1934 when there were 3,000,000 unemployed, perfectly free to decide what lamp post they should lean against. That is not our conception. We do not believe that we can achieve the freedom of the individual unless there is some planned economy to secure for him the elementary necessities of life. That is the basic principle of Socialism, and that is why we believe that Socialism, and Socialism alone, can get us out of our difficulties to-day.
Now let me come to one question which was put to me yesterday by the noble Viscount, the Leader of the Opposition. I want to deal with it at once, and to add to my reply. He said this: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. … 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.My Lords, throughout their long history, the people of this country have always done much better if they have known the truth. I propose, therefore, to tell them the truth, quite frankly. The facts stated in the letter of the noble Lord, Lord Brand, are perfectly correct. The conclusions which he draws are correct. We have to face them. It is no good putting our heads in the sand, like an ostrich; we must face the matter. At the present moment we do not realize 119 the true position, because we have still a loan of £1,400,000,000 from America and Canada. If prices rise, that money will not, of course, last as long as if they had not risen. In any case, when the loan expires we shall have to pay our own way. Whatever we may do with regard to agricultural development, or anything else, this country cannot possibly feed and maintain anything like our present population unless it is a great exporting country. It is only by the exports which we send out that we can pay for the imports necessary to enable us to carry on.
What, then, have we to do? In his letter, Lord Brand said that we have to provide an increase of something of the order of seventy-five per cent. over the 1938 export figures. That is the fact as he gave it, and it is correct. In any discussions we have about these matters, we should always remember that fact. It is an immense task. We have done very well so far, after all the turmoil and disturbance of war—for our people, if any, have needed a rest. We have managed to achieve a figure of exports higher than our 1938 figure. But we have to do much better. We have not only to get higher, we have to get seventy-five per cent.—
The noble and learned Lord said that we had achieved a greater amount of exports than we did before the war. Is that in volume or in value?
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
In volume. That is a very remarkable achievement, but we must do very much more. We have to reach seventy-five per cent. above 1938, in order to pay for those things which come into the country to enable us to live and to carry on. There are several things to be said about that. Let me add one important point. Rightly or wrongly, but inevitably, I think—and I say it with regret—we have come to the conclusion (as we reveal in the King's Speech) that we must introduce some measure of compulsory national service. That fact alone adds most greviously to our problems. Do not forget, when your Lordships say you approve that, that it is going to cost a vast amount of money, and it is going to withdraw from industry those men who are so sorely needed to increase our exports. It is a very heavy 120 price we have to pay for it. I confess that some months ago I hoped that it would be possible to avoid it, but I think it is quite inevitable.
How can we do it? How can we go on to achieve the great task that we must achieve? It is quite obvious that the first thing must be "all hands to the pumps." We cannot afford any wasted or misdirected energy, and, above all, we cannot afford any unemployed. The next thing is this: We have to aim at the greatest possible efficiency, efficiency through the whole structure of industry, efficiency such as we have never achieved before, because if you have seen the output per man-hour in this country and in America, making all allowance for differences—and there are many differences in many industries—you will have been impressed with the fact that the output per man-hour has been far greater over there than here. We have to re-tool our factories and to produce far more per man-hour than we produced before. I am not discussing for the moment six hours as against eight hours. I know that the late Lord Melchett often used to talk to me and point out what a fallacy it was to think that when you reduce hours you necessarily reduce output. When the hours for men really to work are comparatively short, you very often get much more than when they are employed for a very long time and may idle about. Speaking for myself, my judicial sittings are rather less than five hours, and I find that I cannot do any more because I cannot keep my mind at concert pitch for any longer period of time than that.
There is one other very hopeful sign, and this brings me to say a word to your Lordships about the trade union position and the Trades Union Congress. If I may say so, I think that some of your Lordships are doing a not very helpful work when you criticize the Trades Union Congress and say that what we want is another Bill something like the Trade Disputes Bill which we got rid of the other day. I do not believe it a bit. We cannot begin to do what I have suggested unless we have working with us organized labour. As I see it—and I am only saying what Mr. Charles Dukes said in his recent speech—there has to be a new outlook and a new attitude. The days are past when the trade unions could stand, as it were, on the touchline, and simply concern themselves 121 with getting out of the employers as much as they could. One hundred years ago that was a very necessary task, and if it had not been for the work they did, we could never have got anything like the conditions we did get before the war. But to-day the trade unions have a different task. They have to come in as co-operators in industry. They have to see that industry is efficient. They have to pull every bit of their weight in making industry efficient.
These observations were made by Mr. Charles Dukes at the Trades Union congress ten days ago at Brighton, and if you criticize—as you may—some of the decisions they came to, and regret, as perhaps you may, their refusal to allow the Poles to come and work in the mines—it would have been so much better if from, at any rate, one of your Lordships, there had been some recognition of the fact that these men, the leaders of industry, are pulling their weight, and doing what they can to help in these difficult circumstances. Mr. Arthur Horner—the leader of the Miners' Federation—in his speeches up and down the country has been urging the men to give us increased production, and it is right that that should be acknowledged. I pass by—if your Lordships will forgive me for saying so—anything so foolish as to suggest that at this date, about a month or so after we have passed the Coal Nationalization Bill, you can see no immediate result. Of course you cannot. And let me make it quite plain—as I said in the House when we were considering the Bill—I cannot guarantee that this thing gets you any more coal. I can guarantee this, that without it you never would have got more coal. I can say that unless you take this step and get a firm structure on which to build, getting greater efficiency and better relations, you will never get out of that trouble. You cannot expect to see results within a month or it may be even a year. I believe it is a much longer problem than that.
I believe now that there are indications—no more than that—that things are getting a bit better. For instance, although the number of men employed in the industry is still on the downgrade—the older men are leaving—for the first time we have got an increase in the number of new people coming in and the output per man-shift has gone up slightly. There is still far too much absenteeism 122 and there is great scope for improvement, but there are indications that things are better. Let me say emphatically that the only justification for our Socialist measures is because we believe that they will lead to greater efficiency, and if at the present time we were to advance these measures not believing that they were increasing efficiency, we should be paying a very sorry service to our country in an hour of difficulty and with critical times ahead.
I thought that the noble Viscount, the Leader of the Opposition, who is always such a model of courtesy, and always such a good controversialist because he always credits his opponent with being neither a knave nor a fool, fell rather from his high estate yesterday, when, having said that he was not a jitterbug—I am glad to hear it—said that we were humbugs.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.Well, I wondered what the word "humbug" meant, and always liking an excuse to turn up the Oxford Dictionary, I looked up the word in that Dictionary. I found:Humbug. It is a fine makeweight in conversation and some great men deceive themselves so egregiously as to think they mean something by it.I confess that the word "humbug" raised in my mind rather an unpleasant connotation—a man who is saying a lot of things he does not think to be true, but when it is explained away by saying "You are humbugging yourself," I have not the least idea what it means.
These remarks about humbug were made apropos of the Socialist schemes with regard to electricity and with regard to transport. May I stop to ask the noble Viscount to consider this matter? He and I had the privilege to serve together in a Government during the war. In the year 1942 I was making plans for the peace and he was concerned of course with rather more urgent and rather more weighty matters. But I worked away. I was very glad to see my noble friend Lord Portal here to-day because he used to come and sometimes let me discuss problems with him. I suffered, of course, from the fact that the energies of all the big boys, if I may use that phrase, had to be concentrated on the war. In 1942 I 123 studied the question of electricity, and I ventured to make some observations upon it. Does the noble Viscount suggest that I was a humbug then? I do not know. If I am going to be charged with being a humbug, because I advocated these proposals about electricity, there will be a lot of other people standing in the dock with me, and they will not all be Socialists.
Has the noble Viscount considered the position in regard to that industry? Has the noble Viscount the least idea of how many separate concerns there are supplying electricity in this country? Does he know what the Government proposed to do in 1937? I hesitate to refer to the Government of 1937, because I did not think it was a very good Government, but it did propose to bring down the number of electricity suppliers from something like 650 to 30. Thirty may be too many. Am I not right in saying that men may quite conceivably come to the conclusion that the only way to deal with the electricity industry is to socialize it? I speak feelingly about this. I started my married life in Chelsea; I moved to Westminster and took all my lamps with me to Westminster and not one of them was any good. Recently I have moved to the House of Lords and nothing there is any good either; I cannot even work the wireless set. That is the position with regard to electricity.
Then there is transport. The noble Viscount seemed horrified at our proposals about transport and could not understand how they could be pressed on the grounds of efficiency. But there again he will know, because he must have kept in close touch with these things, that reports were written on transport. I was very glad to see yesterday my noble friend Lord Leathers, who was always completely non-committal; he never committed himself at all. But I should be very surprised if the noble Lord, Lord Leathers, said that those who thought that transport ought to be nationalized were humbugs, or were deficient in mental intelligence.
I have allowed the noble and learned Lord to develop his argument because I was not quite certain where it was going to lead, but I think perhaps I ought now to say a word. I certainly used the word "humbugging"; not deliberate humbugging. I certainly did not intend to 124 accuse the noble and learned Lord or the noble Leader of the House of deliberately humbugging anybody. I thought they were deceiving themselves. But it was not on the question of nationalization of the electricity industry, or upon the nationalization of inland transport. If the noble and learned Lord will refer to my speech, it was on this deeper question of the effect which the present general policy of the Government is having on the principles of the freedom of conscience and the liberty of choice. It was in that portion of my remarks in which I quoted Professor Trevelyan on "the glorious revolution." He certainly was not referring to the nationalization of the electricity industry in the passage which I quoted. I was putting forward a general proposition. I do believe, and I shall continue to believe, that this present policy of the Government is leading to an invasion of the liberties of the British people, and especially of the British working people. I know the noble Lords opposite take a different view, but I repeat that I think they are humbugging themselves and they will find out too late that that is the case.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I am grateful to the noble Viscount but we should get on better if I had the vaguest idea what "humbugging oneself" is.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
Now we are all agreed. If from the examination of a problem you draw a definite conclusion as to what ought to be done, and you state that conclusion, are you humbugging yourself whenever you do not agree with the Leader of the Opposition? That is a simple definition, and let us both agree on that. However, if the noble Viscount says it is not in relation to nationalization but to these restraints and controls, I have said, and I say again, that I hate all restraints and I hate all controls. But does anybody really think that at a time like this we should remove them?
Then there is the Exchange Control Bill. Are we at this time to go through what we experienced in 1931, when un-scrupulous financiers who were much more concerned about their own money than about the welfare of the country developed some technique whereby they 125 could deal with hot money, as it was called, and pass it from one country to another to try and dodge taxes? We will not have that. Therefore you will find the Exchange Control Bill contains very drastic provisions. We might have followed the Income Tax scheme but in that scheme every year somebody finds a hole through the net, and the next year the Legislature has to fill up the hole. The situation to-day is too serious for that. That is the justification for the Exchange Control Bill.
The noble Viscount gave one illustration about the recorder. I will deal with the recorder in a minute. Instead of having all these airy grievances about controls, I wish we could have some illustrations of a control that ought to be taken off. Do you complain because we have a rationing system? In the old days the only rationing system was the money system, when anybody who had enough money could go and buy anything. No right-thinking man suggests that we should do that to-day. The one solitary illustration we have had is a sort of little Derby dog running round the course, or this business about the recorder. What are the facts about the recorder? They can be simply stated. You require a licence to manufacture musical instruments, but you do not require a licence to sell them. You require a licence to manufacture because we have to see to-day that every available piece of labour we have is put on to things that really matter, and also because the manufacture even of these instruments uses a certain amount of wood and a certain amount of metal. So you get a licence to manufacture. A manufacturer, having made his recorder, will sell it to a shop-keeper, and the shop-keeper, if he sells that recorder, will want to be sure that he can get another recorder from the manufacturer to take the place of the one he has sold and so keep his stock up. Therefore you have the system whereby a shop-keeper has to see to it that the man who comes to buy the recorder is someone who is entitled to have it. Who is entitled to have it? The people who are entitled to have it are those who have priority, people who are going to earn their living by playing in bands, and that sort of thing.
I had a case of this only a fortnight ago. It was the case of a poor fellow who had been very terribly injured; he was a soldier, and his spinal cord had 126 been severed. He was bound to lie on his back, and he had to spend the rest of his life lying on his back. He wanted to play the recorder, and I was able in that case to get the Board of Trade to say that they would treat this man as though he were a professional musician who had to earn his living by playing it. If we said we would remove all controls and let everybody buy recorders, then the man who is lying on his back, or the man who is going to earn his living by playing the recorder in a band, would not be able to get one. We could, of course, devote more labour to making recorders so as to satisfy everybody, but at a time like this there is not the available labour to devote to all these musical instruments; we must keep it for other things. It therefore follows that we must see that what is produced—insufficient in amount though it may be—is given to those people who are best and most fairly entitled to it. That is the justification for rationing.
I do not want to interrupt the noble and learned Lord again, but in fact in the case which I had in mind the purchaser was not a professional musician, nor was he a man who was suffering from some war injury; he was an ordinary individual. When he got into the Government office he was given a licence immediately, and when he asked whether they had ever refused one, he was told "No."
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I have had the actual official with me. He ought not to have been given one, but I do not suggest he need go to the length of handing it back.
Now I come to answer the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh. The noble Viscount, Lord Portal, is not here, I think. I agree very largely with the test which the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, enunciated. That is to say, it is not primarily a question of ownership but a question of co-ordination—closer co-ordination between the railways and closer co-ordination between road and rail. You can, of course, achieve co-ordination without ownership but in my experience much the simplest way of achieving that co-ordination is by ownership. Having got ownership, you can then achieve what co-ordination you like. I would like your Lordships for a moment to look at the problem of London transport. I do not say that the London 127 Passenger Transport Board has in all respects succeeded in dealing with all the difficulties, but I do say that thanks to the skill and genius of the noble Lord, Lord Ashfield, London transport is in a far better condition than it would have been if there had been a whole mass of unrelated concerns all trying to run their own transport. That, of course, depends upon ownership. I would also say this to the noble Lord. It is of no use to face the problem of how to co-ordinate road and rail unless you realize to what end you are going to co-ordinate them. He would agree with me there. We should both agree, of course, that the end is the best service you can give to the community.
I have never been a railway director. I need hardly say I should have loved to have been one because I should have liked to have produced one of those golden keys which allows you to travel anywhere; but unfortunately they never cast an eye at me or indeed at any of my friends on that side of the House. I often wonder how a director looks at this sort of problem. He sees, as we all do as we go along, little houses backing on to the railway, with clothes which have been laundered hanging out to dry. They are getting all the smuts and the dirt from steam trains and the smoke sometimes goes into the houses and fills the room. He says to himself: "I should like to electrify that line because in that way I should be able to increase the amenities and perhaps tremendously improve the health of the people who live by the side of the railway." Then he looks at his estimates and comes to the conclusion that it would involve a great capital expenditure and that he cannot see a return of more than 1 per cent. on his money. As trustee for the shareholders, he is bound to say "I will not undertake this project". Where can he enter in the balance sheet the greater health, the greater happiness, and the greater amenities of the people who live by the side of the railway? What column is there in the balance sheet for that? That is why we maintain that this service must be recognized as being a great national service ancillary to the general well-being of the people, and particularly of trade and industry.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
Will the noble Lord say if that means 128 that the Government, when they own the railways, are going to embark on capital expenditure for the sake of amenity without any regard whatever to financial returns?
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
Certainly not without any regard to financial returns but the noble Lord must do it without any regard to amenity. Certainly the Government, in considering whether to embark upon capital expenditure, would have to consider first of all the return on their money, but they would be content—and they would be entitled to be contented—with a very much smaller return if they were satisfied that they would thereby increase the health, happiness and amenities of the people. I must say to the noble Lord, Lord Portal, that there really is no occasion whatever for another inquiry. The facts are known. We have got to make up our minds what to do. The right place to have this inquiry is in the High Court of Parliament, and the High Court of Parliament in due course will have the opportunity of pronouncing on the Bill to be introduced.
I will not go into the controversy between my noble friend Lord Strabolgi and the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, but I am bound to say that with regard to the canals I prefer the history of my noble friend Lord Strabolgi and that I do not accept the view that that was a hoary fallacy. If the noble Lord saw, as I expect he did, the Pick Report on the canal system, I think he would have realized that there were some people who still believed that the railways bought up the canals in order to kill them. With regard to the question I was asked about coastal shipping and docks, I would proffer the well-known and ancient Liberal doctrine "Wait and see." I think I had better not anticipate.
Now I come to the speech of the noble Marquess, Lord Reading. He says he thinks there is no enthusiasm for nationalization and that what people want are houses, clothes and food. I quite agree. I cannot imagine anybody sitting over a fireplace with no coal in it, by the side of a table with no food on it, in a house which is leaking, and saying, "Never mind, we have nationalization of this, that and the other." Of course, that is ridiculous. The only justification for nationalization is that we believe it 129 will bring about a great measure of efficiency and thereby enable the man to get his coal, his house, and his food. The noble Marquess referred to our book about "defacing the future." What did the Liberal Party do? I do not know whether they know what they did or whether they all did the same thing.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
The Liberal Party of my days was very different from the Liberal Party now. The Liberal Party now, this last time, said that the transport services were to be taken over as a public utility. Is it defacing the future to take them over as a national service and not defacing it to take them over as a public utility? I do not know the difference. Do I understand that the noble Marquess does not agree that we ought to take over the transport services as a public utility?
THE MARQUESS OF READING
I thought I made it perfectly clear in what I said, and I am sorry if I did not. I said I was not for the moment saying that the nationalization of electricity and transport was bad; what I was saying was that this was not the time to do it, because there were other things of greater importance which ought to come first.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
Let us just see. If the noble Marquess thinks these things are good, I suppose he will agree it is because they are going to give us greater efficiency. If they are going to give us greater efficiency, then surely the sooner we reach that greater efficiency the better. I could entirely understand the noble Marquess if he thought that the scheme was bad and would not bring greater efficiency at all. Then of course he would not have it either now or in the future. What I cannot understand is the attitude of mind of the person who says: "Yes, it is going to make for greater efficiency, but for goodness' sake do not let us have that greater efficiency just yet; let us wait for a bit." That is his attitude and I must leave him to justify it.
Instead of this scheme, which I believe will give greater efficiency, he wants the Criminal Justice Bill. I think there is much to be said for the Criminal justice Bill, but in considering a programme it 130 generally involves a slaughter of the innocents. We have a very large number of Bills all fighting for positions, and we could not have done much about this particular Bill without involving a very considerable building programme. It needs new buildings of many kinds, and the noble Lord, if he thinks about it, will see that that is so. It seems to us much better, as a matter of priority, to have this Bill later at a time when we devoutly hope there will be some chance of getting building done.
With regard to actions against the Crown, I entirely agree with the noble Marquess. I should very much like to be able to introduce that Bill, and I am not without hope that we may do so. The penultimate clause in the gracious Speech would justify such a thing. I would like to say one thing about this Bill. It is repeatedly said that the Bill is in existence in draft form, and it is the fact that a very distinguished body of lawyers—amongst whom was actually the head Parliamentary draftsman—drafted a Bill. That is always referred to as the locus classicus of the way not to do it. A committee cannot draft a Bill; you must let the draftsman prepare the draft and when he has done so, then the committee can render most useful services, but for the committee to start drafting is not successful. I am in this position in regard to this Bill. The draft does not do, and consequently I am taking steps—and I think I am being rather successful—in getting a new draft from the Parliamentary draftsman. Directly I have got that new draft I shall get it criticized by the lawyers who understand these matters, and I shall hope to find some little loophole in the time-table of this House so that I can get it in. I hope to do it this Session but I would so much rather promise too little than make promises which I cannot fulfil. I am going to try to do it, and I am not without hope that I may do it.
Then the noble Viscount asked me about the Rushcliffe Bill. There again, I would intensely like to get that Bill on, but there is still much work to be done. The Law Society are still pursuing the report and inquiries into it, and they are still working out their scheme. I do not think it likely that I shall be able to introduce that Bill this Session. My department have had so few Bills that I really shall press my claims, when the 131 next Session comes, to let me run riot over several of them. With regard to the suggestion for the clarification of the trade union law, I do not think, with respect, that that is a practical suggestion. The noble Viscount wants us to remove restrictions, and he thinks we are pursuing austerity as a deliberate policy. I have given you the facts and I have given you the figures. I have told you about Lord Brand's letter, and anybody who thinks we are pursuing austerity unnecessarily is living in a fool's paradise.
I now come to the most reverend Primate, the Archbishop of York, who spoke particularly about Germany and Austria. I believe he was talking with the weight and authority of the whole Bench of Bishops behind him. I can only say, as a humble member of his Church, that I feel this is a very, very grave matter. I feel that there are fundamental principles involved which we must face. It is a terrible thing, whether the Germans were responsible for this war—as they were—or not, that there should be any preventable starvation in Germany. Starvation would hit the wrong people. It would not hit the people who were responsible for the war, but it would hit all sorts of women and children who had no more responsibility for the war than you or I. I do not believe—I have said this before and I will say it again—that Europe will be happy, contented and prosperous so long as you have that recumbent figure of Germany lying there in a diseased and distressed condition. I do not believe it is possible.
I believe it is perfectly consistent and perfectly possible to combine two things: a rigorous control to prevent these wars and rumours of wars taking place with Germany again, together with some chance, some hope, for the German people. Perhaps we have been wrong about it, and I expect we have. We started on the basis of the Potsdam policy, hoping and believing that all four parties would play the game. They have not, and it has failed. We have not treated Germany as an undivided whole. I think we were right to try, because I think it was of enormous importance that if possible that should be done. Now we have to look at the matter again. All I can say is that the problem is one which is very present in the minds of His Majesty's Government, but as the noble 132 Lord, Lord Pakenham, said the other day—and I think it is right to say this quite definitely—from our meagre and slender resources of food we can send no more from here. There are others who have resources of food which they can send, and I cannot think that the problem of Germany is unknown in those countries. At any rate, His Majesty's Government will do everything they can to bring to the knowledge of the civilized world the state of affairs prevailing in Germany which this country cannot rectify.
The next speaker was the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and I would like to say, if I may, that I have very seldom heard a maiden speech which I thought contained more thorough good sense than his. He seemed to me to realize the nature of the problem we are up against, and he said that unless we can get much greater industrial efficiency we shall never achieve the great task which we have set our-selves. In these few apparently disconnected remarks I have finished what I wanted to say. I believe myself that this House in the last Session did a good job of work, and I believe that in the forth-coming Session we shall do a good job of work. The problems which confront us to-day are such that mere Party controversy in the narrow sense is almost out of place. His Majesty's Government will be ready to listen to any constructive criticism, and will do its best to give effect to it. But I must tell your Lordships that we do propose to press forward with what we think are two necessary steps to secure efficiency at the present time, that is to say, in regard to electricity and transport.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to nemine dissentiente; the said Address to be presented to His Majesty by the Lords with White Staves.