HL Deb 09 September 1947 vol 151 cc1424-69

3.22 p.m.


My Lords, in moving the adjournment of the House, I ought to explain that we do not propose that the House shall sit for public business again until October 20, regard being had always to the fact that order of the House made at the beginning of the Session, the House may be recalled by the Lord Chancellor (or in his absence by the Lord Chairman of Committees) after consultation with the Government, should he be satisfied that the public interest requires an earlier meeting than that to which the House stands adjourned. But judicial business requires that the House shall meet judicially on October 14. I beg, therefore, to move that this House do now adjourn until October 14.

Moved, that the House do now adjourn until Tuesday, October 14 next.—(Lord Ammon.)

3.23 p.m.


My Lords, I think not only the House but most people in the country will have heard with surprise and regret the novel statement by the Government of their inability to make any pronouncement upon their plans to meet the present crisis. The Prime Minister, in broadcasts and in speeches, and in his absence the Acting Prime Minister, have called upon us all to cooperate and play our part in a combined operation. We had hoped and intended that this debate to-day would serve to elucidate the combined operation in which we are invited to take part, to show us more clearly what that operation is and how we can all play .our part in it. What is this operation? It ought to be "Operation Production." So far, frankly, it looks more as if it should be entitled "Operation Restriction." All we have had so far has been the announcement of further cuts. In the emergency into which we have got, those cuts, or at any rate some of them, may be inevitable. But cuts and restrictions are not in themselves a constructive policy. They certainly are not a policy to promote production; they may, indeed, actually reduce production if, as a result of those cuts, the food supplied to the people of this country is insufficient, or if the necessary raw material is not forthcoming to our industries.

As the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, said, we are all only too anxious to play our part, but in order to do that, if I may adopt the old military maxim, everyone must have a sufficient knowledge of the general idea to carry out his particular operation. It is to get that knowledge that we want to-day to put our questions to the Government, whenever it may be that they see fit to answer them. My metaphor was suggested to me in a most extraordinary speech by Mr. Strachey, the Minister of Food, who said—I paraphrase what he said—that people would like to know what was required of them, but, of course, they could not have that knowledge, as it would be like asking the commander of an Army to tell the troops exactly what was going to happen in a coming battle.

I do not know whether Mr. Strachey has great personal knowledge of that particular branch of the Armed Forces. He may mean that a General cannot say with absolute certainty what the man on the other side is going to do; though the best Generals are those who make a shrewd guess at what is happening on the other side of the hill. What every good General can and should do, what the great Generals in the late war so constantly did, and to which a very great part of their success has been attributed by themselves and by other observers, was that they had definite plans of their own and they made quite certain that every man in their Army knew exactly what the plans were. That was why the Armies went on to victory. In those days there was the question of security and the risk of the enemy getting to know. As noble Lords will remember, Field-Marshal Montgomery said: "If I have to choose between the risk of the enemy finding out something of what I am going to do, and of every man in my Army not knowing what I am going to do, I am going to take the risk of the enemy knowing every time, and see that my own men know what is the job required of them."

If the Government cannot give us an answer to-day, I hope they will appreciate from this discussion how urgent and relevant are the questions which we seek to put, and which I think every thinking man and woman in the country is putting, and how important it is that they should be answered. We have had one Economic White Paper, and if the Government are unwilling to make a statement here, and if they refuse to recall Parliament, could we not, when they know the answers to these questions, have another White Paper which will put us a little more in possession of the facts? There cannot be anything unconstitutional in that. If that was a breach of the Constitution, then the Constitution would long ago have been shattered by the descent of the White Papers.

I think it is misleading to talk of the situation, as some have been inclined to do, as if it were merely a dollar crisis. It goes much deeper and wider than that; the lack of dollars is only one symptom. I come back to what I said as to the title I would give to the operation. It is a production crisis, which can only be solved by production. Failure to produce enough coal has nothing whatever to do with dollars; and to harp on dollars all the time is as if it had been said of Dunkirk (a rather curious and not very apposite parallel which is quite frequently used by Ministers in their radio pronouncements) that it was the result of the U-boat campaign. It is quite true that the crisis was accelerated and aggravated by going on and off the convertibility of sterling. But to run into convertibility and then, in little more than a month, to rush out of it again like a scalded cat, was really making the worst of both worlds. It drained away—I think my figures are right—$800,000,000 in a few weeks; apparently between $200,000,000 and $300,000,000 went in five or six days towards the end. Now that rushing in, the sudden drain and the running out, made the sterling position and the international trade position in the world much worse than if convertibility had been postponed altogether. There can be no doubt about that.

Could that convertibility have been avoided? That really is a question to which the country is entitled to know the answer. I want to quote an article by a very responsible American politicist which appeared in the Sunday Times of August 24—Mr. Herbert Elliston, the Editor of the Washington Post. I do not want to misrepresent him, so I will quote the whole paragraph. He said this: It is in this respect that most of the American criticism I have spoken of shows itself. Last winter the lesson was rubbed in on coal. Britain's reserves of public utility coal were allowed to run down to three-and-a-half weeks' supply. Providence turned on England for this imprudence. The same short sightedness occurred in the matter of currency. Weeks before the British, under the Anglo-American Loan Agreement, were called upon to reinstitute pound-dollar interchangeability, Washington officials ran up the danger signal and hinted that a waiver ought to be applied for, but Mr. Dalton took no notice. On the contrary, he expressed confidence that the pound would be able to weather the exposure. The failure to do so caused surprise only in London, for the black market in sterling was evidence of hemorrhage. Even in a blocked system the rush was on soon. The exits were officially opened. The north-easter that gripped Mr. Shinwell last winter was nothing like the July blow that assailed Mr. Dalton. He seems to have regarded himself as more sinned against than sinning; the Americans ought to have done something about it. Now that is by a very responsible writer and we are entitled to be informed, by whatever is the proper medium, whether the Chancellor was warned. Were the Americans prepared to waive the convertibility which, after all, as I understand it, was only obligatory under the agreement between us, and was a matter of arrangement between the Americans and ourselves. Was he then warned? Were the Americans prepared to waive, and did the Chancellor reject alike the warning and the suggestion of waiver? The whole story of the United States and Canadian credits is even now incomplete and obscure. Where and how has the money gone? Mr. Roy Harrod, a very distinguished economist, has stated the issue and the facts very clearly and concisely. I want to ask the Government whether his figures are correct. The figures he gives are these, and about the first there is no doubt at all. The combined United States and Canadian credit was the equivalent in dollars of £1,250,000,000. According to Mr. Harrod, £550,000,000 only of that went in direct purchases by ourselves and by the rest of the sterling area. On August 20 £225,000,000 remained. Some of that has gone now—I think in fact all except the blocked £100,000,000. Where has the balance of £475,000,000 gone? Those are the facts. I call them facts because they are uncontradicted statements by one of the greatest economic authorities of the day. The country is entitled to know whether they are facts and to know where the money has gone, and nothing could be more suitable for a White Paper than a perfectly clear, simple statement of exactly what has happened to that combined credit.

Now I want, for a moment or two, to turn to another subject upon which we have received some enlightenment, or perhaps I should say some individual enlightenment. I mean the very important statement on Commonwealth trade which the Foreign Secretary, Mr. Bevin, made to the Trades Union Congress. He said it was a personal statement. But great pronouncements, even to T.U.C's. or C.G.T's., are not generally made by the Foreign Secretary of a country entirely in a personal capacity, and quite naturally what everybody in the country is asking, and again what everybody in the country has a right to know, is whether Mr. Bevin's statement of his aims and aspirations and the line on which he wishes to work in this Empire represents the aim and the policy of His Majesty's Government. It is not unnatural that that question should be asked with some anxiety because of the other members of the Cabinet. I think every one of those who were in the House of Commons in 1932 voted against the Ottawa Agreement. The Prime Minister certainly did, and the President of the Board of Trade did. Mr. Aneurin Bevan—I think he is still in the Government, is he not?—voted against it. I have not looked up the Ministerial list of to-day with the House of Commons Division List of fifteen years ago, but I think I am right in saying that every single Minister who was then a member of the House of Commons voted against the policy which Mr. Bevin is quite rightly supporting.

Those of us who were responsible for Ottawa and for other extensions of preference have always held that close and continuous economic co-operation in the whole Commonwealth ought to be the basis of our economic policy, whether it be a short-term policy or a long-term policy. Such a policy must be mutually beneficial and acceptable. I do want to emphasize this: that it need not necessarily conform to a sealed pattern. It is so important that the right policy should not be prejudiced or delayed by pressing an impracticable method. A Customs Union in the sense of uniform Customs duties against all imports from outside, with no duties at all inside the Union, would he a very difficult thing for the British Commonwealth in both respects. But such complete uniformity is not in the least necessary to close economic cooperation and to Commonwealth countries operating more and more as complementary parts of a strongly united, if loosely knit, association.

It may well be that this kind of mutual co-operation within the Empire may not only be of immense value to the Empire but may be a very wise example outside. It may well be that this kind of mutual co-operation is the solution for Western Europe. The two are not mutually exclusive. It is a complete fallacy to suppose that such large economic units restrict or make more difficult trade with the rest of the world. All practical experience over the last fifteen years or more has shown that the exact opposite is the truth. It matters not at all whether the association follows the form of a uniform Customs Union like the United States of America, or the old Austrian Empire, or the recently established Netherlands-Beigium-Luxemburg Union (which I think we should all welcome) or whether it follows the Commonwealth pattern with its less rigid methods of mutual trade. When such a Union or such a co-operating unit prospers internally it does more trade inside the Union and more trade with the outside world. Everything has shown this.

Let me take two examples. Take the United States. Their single great Customs Union went on with increasing prosperity till the slump of 1929. Whatever may have been the reasons for the slump of 1929–30 it caused internal trade inside the Customs Union of the United States to crash, and immediately the trade of the United States with the rest of the world crashed too. It was slashed, exactly as we have recently had to slash our dollar purchases. Conversely, what was the result of the Ottawa Agreements and the extension of imperial preference which was negotiated there and afterwards confirmed by the Parliaments of the whole Commonwealth? The result was a steady and rapid increase of the internal trade within the mutual association of the Commonwealth and Empire and also a steadily increasing trade by, I think, every one of the countries of the Commonwealth—certainly by the countries of the Commonwealth as a whole—with the outside world.

I believe myself that Mr. Secretary Marshall's appeal to Europe, with his stimulating and encouraging message of hope, can best be answered, whether it be in Western Europe or elsewhere, on lines of co-operation such as these. I am sure that if the Government go forward on these lines, sound and practicable as they are, we shall give all the help we can. But we are entitled to say, "What is your policy? Where are you going?" And it is not as if a stony silence were being maintained. Leaving aside Mr. Bevin's statement, what has happened under Article a? Where do we stand? I understand that Mr. Wilson. the Secretary for Overseas Trade. has been making very important pronouncements at Geneva. What are these pronouncements? Have there been commitments? Surely Parliament, by means of a White Paper or in some way, should have this made clear, Do not let us be pedantic. Parliament and the country are entitled to know what is the policy, what commitments have been made, and whether they are on tie lines Mr. Bevin has advocated or whether they follow some other course. I should like to ask one other question in connexion with Empire trade. How far and how soon do the Government estimate that the Commonwealth can make up the dollar cuts of £144,000,000 which have recently been imposed on food and raw materials?

There have been one or two indirect Orders made under the urgent enabling Act which was rushed through. The country anxiously waits to hear what the Government intend to do or not to do under their proposals for the direction 3f labour. I do not suppose the Government have made up their mind, and certainly no Order has been made. I quite understand that no answer can be given immediately. But people are genuine y very anxious about the matter. If they are going to be moved, they suspect the worst. It is very important to allay anxiety as soon as possible. I think I am entitled to comment on the statement already made by members of the Government in another place. I must tale leave to make some reply to Mr. Bevin's extraordinary statement, again to the Trades Union Congress, that the only alternative to an arbitrary direction of labour was to go back to a system of what he called, I think, "chaotic unemployment." That really is not at all the choice before us. The true alternative is to be found in the National Government's White Paper on Full Employment, presented to Parliament on behalf of a united Government by the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, and in the formulation of which, and certainly in its presentation to the country, Mr. Bevin himself played no inconsiderable part. There the policy was very clearly laid clown: it was sound budgeting and industrial co-operation, with employers and workers together. working to carry out the general plan and directives. One thing in particular in that White Paper which the Government appear to have entirely ignored in their plans or lack of plans was the importance of wise guidance and direction of capital expenditure, whether Government or industrial. The White Paper pointed out in terms which even I can understand what is indeed obvious common sense—namely, that you want to intensify capital expenditure if unemployment is imminent, and you want to reduce capital expenditure to a minimum when the demand for goods will give full employment in productive industry and enterprise.

What is the position to-day? Surely to-day production for export and for home. consumption needs far more men, and indeed women, than it can get. Surely this is the moment when we ought to try to get all we can out of existing plant. Certainly it is the moment to go slow on all public works which can be deferred. It is far more important that concentration on the right kind of production which is frequently urged in speeches should be turned into action, and above all into Government action. That is what is needed: production to redress the trade balance and to give incentives and reduce inflation at home.

In that connexion I want to ask for some explanation of the proposed cut in petrol. It is claimed that at the very most this cut will save dollars equivalent to £5,000,000 sterling. That figure, I understand, has been challenged, and it is alleged that the net saving would be considerably less than the £5,000,000. But let me take the outside estimate of £5,000,000. It has never been explained, incidentally, why this £5,000,000 worth of petrol—not very much—cannot come from the vast sterling oil areas in Iran and Iraq which expanded their production and refining to a very great degree in the war.

But I want to follow this out a little further. What will be the economic consequences of this very meagre cut? I leave aside, if the Government insist that no attention must be paid to it, the hardship and the inconvenience to the users of motor cars, not all great Rolls Royces or big Government cars, but little cars, to the users of motor bicycles, of whom there are a great many, particularly in the country districts where transport is cut mere and more in the winter months. I leave that aside if I must. I leave, if the Government will not pay any attention to it or if they think it not worth consideration, the very great hardship to the small garage man, the man who looks after these little cars and sells them and their tyres and their petrol and who does the repairs. Very often these garages are kept by men who are ex-soldiers, ex-Service men of this war or the last. They will go out of business.

But carry the economic consequences further than that. To-day the basic ration gives many people of modest means a chance of spending some of the money which would otherwise be chasing nonexistent goods, of buying their petrol, tyres, renewals and so on, and incidentally in making a very considerable contribution to the Chancellor of the Exchequer in Petrol Tax and in car duties. All that is going to go for £5,000,000. Both the public and the Chancellor of the Exchequer will suffer. The public and the small garage man are going to suffer hardship and loss, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer is going to suffer twice over. He will suffer all the loss of revenue out of refunding taxes on motor cars and motor cycles laid up and he will not get his Petrol Tax on his petrol. In fact, he himself will have given the finest stimulus to inflation that he can find. What is it going to mean? Here, all the money which was going out in that way, partly in taxation and partly in buying this very reasonable amenity, is going to be left in the man's hands, unless you confiscate it, to go and chase the non-existent goods. I do not know what the amount is, but the amount which is spent in this way must be many times the £5,000,000 outside limit which it is proposed to save.

I do not know whether even such a question may be answered, but would it be a fantastic estimate to say whether he could certainly add £25,000,000—I have been given a very much bigger estimate—to the money chasing the goods? I thought the Chancellor of the Exchequer did riot believe in big dividends but to save £5,000,000 at the outside and to create an inflation of well over £25,000,000 out of that does seem to me to be an inflationary dividend which it would be difficult to justify.


Sheer nonsense.


I should be interested to hear what the noble Lord has to say. I congratulate him on his elevation to his new transport position. I hope the noble Lord will intervene in this debate and will inform us why this is nonsense. As the noble Lord comes from a place where he used to fight against me in a constituency where there were people of modest means with little cars and motorcycles and where there were little garage proprietors, perhaps he would enlighten us as to why they are to have no consideration. This kind of measure seems to me to be panic rather than planning.


Utter nonsense.


It is easy to go on making these very parrot-like interventions, but we shall certainly welcome a statement from the noble Lord in the debate.

I come now to another point on which I shall be grateful to have the noble Lord's intervention. In all the Government talk and tentative plans to improve the man-power position, not one word has been said about reducing the staffs of Government Departments. Industry is warned that less important industries may have to shut down or be curtailed in order that manpower may concentrate on production which is immediately most important. When is this system going to be applied to the activities of Government Departments? It is quite useless to approach this by going round and seeing whether you can get rid of a clerk here or a typist there. It is no use having a high-powered Treasury Committee going to investigate these things unless we know what are the terms of reference of this high-powered Treasury Committee. If they have no terms of reference, they ought to be occupied doing something else. There is only one sound approach by which you can cut expenditure and staff, whether in business or in Government Departments, and that is to see what less important activities can be suspended or curtailed. It is the only way in which it can be done. That in fact is exactly what the Government intend, either directly or indirectly, to say to these businesses which have got to shut down in whole or in part in order that this manpower may be directed elsewhere. May we say to them: "Physician, heal thyself"?

That does not mean that you have got to get rid of all the necessary controls or that they should be removed. It does not mean that at all. I am perfectly certain that many controls, particularly those of materials, could be much more economically and effectively operated within the industries themselves and by close cooperation with the industries, those industries giving effect to general orders and general directions which would be issued by the Government. l believe you would get a cheaper system and a much easier working system as well as a great deal more production in that way. I should have thought that you could get just Mat kind of co-operation within industry between employers and employees in operating a system of control of that kind Mat the Government would wish to see.

All these things I have referred to and others, both direct and indirect, must be part of a combined operation, whether it is short or long, an operation in which we all want to help. I have tried to be constructive. The questions I have put are questions which people up and down be country are asking to-day, quite irrespective of Party. They are questions which people are entitled to have answered. That is why I think it is so important that he Government should explain what are their plans, and why I think that to-day they might very well have taken the opportunity to help a country which only warts to help itself.

3.59 p.m.


My Lords, noble Viscount who opened this debate on behalf of the Government told us in his kindest manner that the Government were not going to tell us anything. I am glad to say that in fact he has told us quite a lot. In telling us that the Government would make no announcement of policy to us while the House of Commons was not sitting, he made plain to us what some of us were already beginning to suspect, that we are a House of Parliament and not the Trades Union Congress. Therefore, if we had to ask, as members of that Congress asked, what was the policy on a vital matter like iron and steel, in which we are interested, we should get no answer. If I were to look across at my former pupil, Lord Pakenham, and ask him whether he personally shared the views of his chief upon a Customs Union, he would reply with a smiling nothing.


My lips are sealed but, since the noble Lord has referred to me, I would say that on all occasions I share the opinion of my chief.


I have drawn something. We are not the Trades Union Congress, and I hope, at some time, it will become apparent that the Trades Union Congress is not a House of Parliament, but perhaps that is too much to hope yet. I think we must all agree that the primary object for which we decided to assemble now has proved to be unnecessary. It would be singularly undignified for this House to put itself in a position of a cat who watches a hole in which there is no mouse. No mouse has come out of the hole behind which the Government are hiding. But, in spite of that, I think we can use this occasion for doing something useful.

Let me recall what I said on the Motion for the adjournment. It is my own conviction, and I do not think there can be any doubt about it, that the main cause of this trouble is not with the Government. It is not the Government who brought this trouble upon the country, although I will not say that they have not contributed. They have contributed largely. But the main cause lies outside their power and, to my mind at any rate, we cannot cure the trouble and get out of the real difficulty simply by a change of Government. We cannot escape the danger—and it is a real danger in which the country is to-day—by anything that the Government alone do, unless they can get the whole-hearted cooperation of all sections of the community. It is just that co-operation which we all know most tragically the Government are failing to get to-day.

We all know that the largest of all our mine fields is laid idle by a growing strike. I am not going into the details of that strike. I can only say that, reading what has been said about it by the miners' leaders and others, it does seem clear that it raises the issue of the continuance of restrictive practices however short the hours become. That is the issue which appears to be raised in that case, an objection to any change of the old way of working. However, the world has changed, and it is that insistence upon going on in the old way which is the great danger to this country to-day. In this particular dispute the Government have the support of the miners' union against a minority of people, but let me remind the House that there is another matter affecting coal in which they have not apparently up to now been able to get the co-operation of the miners' union. I think it is nearly a month since the Prime Minister appealed for an extra half-an-hour a day in the mines. Nothing has been done upon that; there has been no extra time. No arrangement has been made, and I think I am right in saying that nobody has stated just why those negotiations broke down. Would it not be desirable that the country should know what the miners' union is asking as the price of this, so that the country could judge, or bring public opinion to bear upon this particular matter? This might have been an occasion when the Government, if all their lips had not been sealed, might have told us something about that very critical and difficult negotiation—what was the nature of the negotiation, what caused its breakdown, and why has the appeal made by the Prime Minister of this country led to nothing whatever in three weeks or a month?

Now we all know that this country is in a very serious danger in the coming winter, not merely from hunger or being unable to buy the things we need, but from the fact that you may get a serious rift between one section of the people and another. That is a thing that has to be faced. It may be the miners who are unemployed but not cold, and others who are employed but cold. Of course, you cannot coerce any body of men in this country, and you ought not to attempt to coerce them, by hunger. The alternative is to persuade them by reason. I should have thought the Government, instead of cold-shouldering an opportunity of forming public opinion, of revealing facts, of bringing the situation home to the country, would welcome the opportunity which this House has given. They have not done so. But it is important that they should take every opportunity of bringing home to the country what are the dangers facing it, and, may I suggest, of themselves doing unusual things in order to persuade the country to do unusual things. The fact that this House has chosen to come together most unusually in such unusual circumstances has itself made an opportunity for a good deal of very good publicity for the Government which they have thrown away. The only other thing I can suggest is that we might have gone and sat in our own Chamber. That would have been an added touch to this. occasion, but if at the end all we got was this polite wooden refusal of the Government to take the opportunity, we should not have been much further on.

I still make the suggestion to the Government that what we have to do is to persuade the people of this country that they cannot: go on just as they have gone on for the last fifty years without disaster. The Government themselves might set the example of making changes. I have suggested that they might do a little dropping of measures or postponing of measures till a more convenient time. I want to make one other suggestion, and I do so without having consulted with the Leader of the Liberal Party. I suggest to the Government that they should not believe that all the wisdom and statesmanship in the country have yet joined the Labour Party. I remember a very severe dispute in the coal-mining industry about twenty years ago, and I remember who was called upon to deal with it—my noble friend Viscount Samuel. He became Chairman of a Commission, and I know very well the large part he took in dealing with the settlement. Here is my noble friend Viscount Samuel, a man available for any public purpose. Do not you think that possibly he might help the Government to find a way out of their coal-mining difficulties which they are not finding for themselves? I make that suggestion deliberately not having mentioned it to my noble friend, although I should still have made that suggestion, because we do not have discipline in this Party, which is the Liberal Party. That is really all I want to say. I do regret that the Government, instead of taking this opportunity of using this House as a means of forming public: opinion ant of trying to convince the country that it in an unusual and serious danger, have just given us a wooden lecture upon the Constitution.

4.10 p.m.


My Lords, in view of the fact that there is going to be no answer to this debate, I do not propose to make more than a very few remarks. I am going rather to follow the idea of my noble friend Viscount Swinton and put a few questions. I agree with other noble Lords who have spoken that the Government are making a great mistake. Everyone who goes about the country is aware that people in all walks of life are asking: "What is going to happen? What are we to do?" Everyone is anxious to know that. People have been in the position of wanting enlightenment in that respect for far too long. They are getting thoroughly tired of being in the position of a blind man asking for guidance and receiving no help as to the direction in which he shall go.

We, on this side of the House, are always being accused of the most wicked actions and wicked thoughts. But I can assure noble Lords opposite that every one of us on this side of the House is just as anxious as I presume they are to he p to get the country out of this appalling situation. But the sort of remarks that have been falling in the last few days from the lips of the Lord President of the Council—as for example the unwarrantable charge that critics of the Government are enjoying themselves—are not helpful. Who are enjoying themselves to-day? Not one of us gets into bed at night without some terrible worry, it may be a personal or a family one, which is tied up in the affairs of the country. A statement such as the Lord President of the Council made is both untrue and, I consider, insulting.

What we on this side of the House are undoubtedly concerned with, and it is our chief concern, is this—that we have put all politics aside. Noble Lords on the opposite side of the House have heard just now from the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, that we are all anxious to help. The position is far too serious for us to devote ourselves to Party political ideas at the present time. The fact that we do not agree with the policy of the Government is not going to influence us if we find that in some way or other we can assist the general situation through anything that they have brought forward. Within only the last few days the Lord President of the Council has said that the Government have a plan to cope with the crisis. Well, for goodness' sake let us have that plan as soon as possible; let us get on with the job. Statements of this sort have been made before, and nothing has happened. I hope that ere long we shall hear something which we can really get hold of, and bite on, in order to help the general situation. If I understand my own countrymen correctly we must give them the chance to understand the position. Whenever that has been done, so far in the history of this country, they have never failed. But they must know, and I shall hope that in the very near future—because it is vitally important—the Government will make a constructive and concrete statement which will enable all of us to realize what is expected of us, what the Government wish us to do.

I would like to say how much I agree with what was said by my noble friend Lord Swinton on the subject of convertibility. I have heard the same statement as that which he read about a very sympathetic offer being made to the Chancellor of the Exchequer in regard to the postponement of convertibility, and I think that, in view of the statements made in the Press and the rumours which are going about on the subject, we really ought to be told whether this is so or not. I think the Chancellor of the Exchequer ought to face the question.

A further question I would like to ask is in respect of a matter about which no one seems to know really what is going to happen. I would like to put the question and ask for a definite answer, "Yes" or "No." I hope that the noble Lord opposite who speaks very often for the Government can say "Yes" or "No" to it. Ah ! I gather that lips are sealed. The question is this: Is the iron and steel industry going to be nationalized? Everyone is asking about that. Some members of the Party to which the noble Lords opposite belong made some very strong remarks on that subject only a day or two ago. Then there is this terrible business of contradictory statements by Ministers, from which we have suffered so much of late. I believe that that has been causing some concern at Number 10, and there were rumours something was going to be done, that speeches were going to be "vetted" before they were delivered. I hope that something of that sort is in fact going to happen. It upsets people when they hear one Minister saying one thing and another Minister saying another. It is no use to continue writing on walls "Work or Want", or to go on saying "Produce or Bust." That does not help at all. It only confuses people, and it is becoming a sort of joke in almost every comic paper in the country.

There is just one remark I would like to make in regard to mining and what has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge. The other day when the question was raised as to whether Poles and other foreigners were to be engaged in mining in this country, I think a noble Lord opposite said that a discussion was going on with the miners' leaders. I hope that something will be done in that direction. But we are not going to get an answer upon that matter either, I suppose. I submit that we must have an answer, because the most vital matter for this country, as we all know, is the production of coal, and unless there is this augmentation of our present manpower in the mining world, we are going to suffer very severely in all walks of life and in all industries in this country. I hope that these discussions to which I have referred are not going on and on and on with nothing happening, because if they are, then the outlook is gloomy indeed.

And now before I sit down yet one other remark, with regard to agriculture. I know of someone who within the last few days has endeavoured to get permission to keep a pig. Now I understood the Minister of Agriculture to say recently that we ought all to do all we could to increase the animal population of the country. What was the answer to that individual's application for permission? He was asked: "How many pigs did you have in 1939?" The poor man scratched his head and said: "I think I had two." The answer was: "Well, then, you cannot have any now." Really, is it not fantastic that: there should he this quibbling and these ridiculous restrictions in the case of a man willing and anxious to do what the Minister of Agriculture, apparently, wants him to do? Is it not absurd that he should be given such a reply? I hope that what I have said about that will sink in. Noble Lords will remember a Motion which I had—a Motion which was accepted by the Government—for the increase of production by £100,000,000. It was reduced to £80,000,000 but they have now accepted a figure of £100,000,000. What are they doing about it? The Motion was considered some six or eight months ago. When is something going to be done about it? I see no evidence in the country that anything is going to be done to help in the augmentation of the means of production of food here. That is a matter which is worrying people greatly. It is not only we in this House, but the man in the street, the workers on the farms, and everybody, who are worried about it.

I am sorry we are going to adjourn now until October 14. I think the only way to get things done is to keep on hammering away at it. I would like the House to adjourn for a fortnight and then come back and have another go at the Government. In the present state of the country I see no reason why we should not receive some definite statement from His Majesty's Government. This constitutional question seems to me to mean nothing; so far as I could understand it, it is just a quibble. I hope that the Government will now realize their responsibilities, and realize that it is not only the organized workers who should receive consideration, but all the other workers. There are many on these Benches who are perhaps working far harder and longer hours than they would be allowed to if they had a union. I hope that other workers will receive the same consideration as the organized workers about whom we have heard so much. I beg the Government to realize their responsibilities, and as soon as possible to get on with the job.

4.22 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to address your Lordships for a few moments on one subject and one subject only. It is a subject that I have ventured to raise a good deal within the last eighteen months, and I make no apology for referring to it again. There is no greater source of anxiety or of danger at the present moment than a real shortage of food in this country. As the Chancellor of the Exchequer said the other day, there is no greaser saver of dollars than British agriculture. Last August, just before the House rose, His Majesy's Government made a statement to your Lordships' House and to Parliament generally, setting forth the targets and objectives for increasing food product ion in this country. That statement, setting out a policy which in the main this House had pressed on the Government for the last eighteen months, met with our general approval. It is quite true that many of us felt that, in view of the possibilities latent in the land, and having regard to the desperate needs of the situation, the targets were moderate. On the other hand, they are only moderate, we said, if the farmer has the tools, the machinery, the labour, the houses, the fertilizers, and the feeding stuffs for the job. We said that without those things these targets, although moderate, were unattainable.

Since then a good start has been made by the Government with their announcement of the new prices. Speaking personally, I should have preferred. to see at least some of the value represented by those increased prices devoted to direct encouragement of improvements in buildings and equipment. But as a quick and rough and ready way of giving the farmer confidence to increase production at once, I think there is no doubt that all noble Lords will accord a warm welcome to the new price schedule. Equally welcome was Mr. Morrison's pledge in his address to the farmers. He promised then high priority from all Departments for farmers' requirements. That is what the Minister of Agriculture has been requiring for many a weary month. He promised also a combined operation to overcome shortages and bottlenecks. Later on he said to his audience that, in his view, it was now up to the farmers. There I cannot help feeling that perhaps he was on rather less sure ground. It is surely premature to "pass the buck" to the farmer until the "combined operation" has been successfully concluded.

The farmer did all and more than was asked of him during the war, and he will do it again. But during the war he had the tools, and now he is waiting for them. I think it is quite obvious to all of us, since the announcement of the new price schedule, that the Government do mean business and are doing their best. My only fear is lest, as I think they so often do, they mistake words for deeds and targets for attainments. With this in view, I wrote on August 27 to the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, setting out certain questions that, in my view, required to be answered before we could be satisfied that this new agricultural plan that has been put before the country would in fact result in attainments as well as targets. I am sure there is some good reason why the noble Earl cannot be here to-day, but I think perhaps the House would have appreciated his attendance, especially as he was given nearly a fortnight's warning, even if his lips were sealed.


I understand the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, is ill, and on his behalf I would like to convey regrets.


I most readily withdraw everything that I said. These were the questions. First: What increased allocations of steel and other essential materials have been made to the manufacturers of agricultural machinery? When will actual delivery of these greater quantities of materials start? Will this allocation be sufficient to maintain exports as well as to supply the home market? I then said that, even if the answer to my second question was in the affirmative, there is bound to be a time lag before the manufacturers are able to get going on their increased production: therefore, were the Government considering some stoppage or limitation of the export of machinery until the manufacturers were able to get going? Then, on the question of houses, I asked the noble Earl what number of houses the Government are hoping to get built for agricultural workers, and by when do they intend to have them completed? What are the intentions of the Government about reconditioning existing houses? Will licences be granted to private people to build and to let to agricultural workers and, if so, will equal financial assistance be given to them as to local authorities? I asked the noble Earl: What are the Government's definite plans and time-table for obtaining more labour? What supplies of fertilizers are being budgeted for, and how do these figures compare with those for the last three years? If noble Lords look back to this spring and think of what was lost as a result of not being able to obtain nitrogen at the proper time, they will appreciate that this is an important question. Finally I asked: Am I right in thinking that the only extra feeding stuffs so far allowed are those announced a few weeks ago? Noble Lords will realize that those increased rations, welcome though they are, were literally only chicken-feed. Is it the Government's intention to increase these, and what guarantee can producers have that these increases will be maintained?

Those are nine questions that I ventured to put to the noble Earl. I am sure there are many noble Lords in this House who could think of many others almost equally important, but it struck me that those nine were absolutely essential and vital to the success of this scheme. It seems to me a pity that questions such as these, which raise no question of policy but have regard to the carrying out of policy, could not have been answered in your Lordships' House. They certainly must have answers, and those answers have to be specific and definite if the country is to obtain the increased production of food we so desperately need.

At some time or other, when the answers are given, I would suggest to the Government that they should concentrate themselves particularly on housing and feeding stuffs. I am assuming for the moment—perhaps optimistically in view of what we read in the papers to-day about the possible spread of the coal strike—that it may be possible to anticipate that the agricultural machinery manufacturers will in fact get their extra allocations of steel. I do not know; things may be different now. The other day I had the happy experience of ringing up no less than six machinery distributors and succeeding in getting exactly eight ploughshares. I speak with some feeling on the question of machinery, but I do think we should emphasize particularly housing and feeding stuffs. I stress housing because we know that that is the key to the labour problem, and if you solve the housing problem you are solving three-quarters of the labour problem. If we examine the number of houses for all sections of the population which have been put up since the war, and the present state of the supplies of materials for housing, then I think it is really impossible for any of us to feel encouraged about the future possibilities of putting up sufficient houses in time to enable agriculture to obtain the labour that it needs to increase food production in the near future. Do let us remember the labour situation. We have been promised 100,000 new men. When we are going to get them we have not been told. How we are going to get them we have not been told, and how we are going to house them we are not as yet told. There is only one certain factor in the agricultural labour situation at the present moment, and that is that approximately 76,000 Germans are going to leave us within the next twelve months.

When I turn to feeding stuffs, I freely confess that the position seems to be quite obscure and utterly contradictory. I would have appreciated some assistance from the Government on this point, and so I think would many tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of farmers. From almost every point of view, the agricultural point of view, the nutritional point of view, and the point of view of saving exchange, it is generally agreed that the more we concentrate on the production of livestock in this country the better. But we must have much more definite information about the supplies of feeding stuffs that are likely to be available before any wise man is going to embark on a large increase of his livestock. It is no use rearing animals that cannot be fed. Farmers learned that early in 1946, after they had been encouraged by certain words of the Minister in 1945 to increase their livestock. They had to wring the chickens' necks and cut the pigs' throats because they could not be fed. It would be irresponsible for any of us to encourage the farmers to increase their livestock production until we know they will be in a position to feed them.

I confess that I do not: know whether they will get the feeding stuffs or not, but I look at the position in this way. In the Argentine the wheat acreage is very considerably clown. The first official estimates from Canada are extremely disappointing. The crop in the United States looks encouraging and as though it is larger than last year—that is, the wheat crop. But the U.S.A. will be down in maize and oats, and meanwhile their domestic food consumption in America continues quite steadily to rise. More and more of that so-called surplus grain of which we are already reading continuer, therefore, to be demanded for the feeding of their own livestock.

I read only last week in what I think is a very careful and highly respected weekly newspaper, The Economist, that only a miracle can prevent an acute grain shortage during the next twelve months. How are we going to increase livestock on that? I read that Mr. Fitzgerald, the Secretary-General of the International Emergency Food Conned, tells us that there are 29,000,000 tons of cereals likely to be available, against which there are already demands for 50,000,000 tens. Those of us who have studied these matters in the past know that these figures of demand on the International Emergency Food Council are always inflated, and therefore I put them forward for what they are worth. But I. do .lot think any of us would say that we can entirely ignore an estimated deficit of no less than 21,000,000 tons.

We really must have some answer to this point. I do not know whether The Economist and Mr. Fitzgerald are right, or whether the Government's promises of more feeding stuffs axe right. Without access to the official sources of information no one can possibly say. But I do know this: that both sides cannot be right. Either The Economist and Mr Fitzgerald are wrong or else we are over-optimistic in thinking that we are going to be in a position to increase livestock in this country, and on this depends 75 per cent. of the schemes laid before us a fortnight or three weeks ago. If, in fact, the grain position is as I have said, then we shall be hard put to it, even if we feed all available sources of grain direct to human beings. That is the hard position. I hope very much that The Economist is wrong and I hope that Mr. Fitzgerald is wrong. But not merely Parliament but the nation as a whole, including the farmers, are entitled to have the leadership and the answer of the Government on this point. It is only by answering with clarity this point and the other points about which I wrote to the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, that the people of this country can be assured of the increase of production of food of which in fact our British soil is capable. If the Government continue to refuse this information to your Lordships' House, then I do implore them to put it out very soon to the public in some other way. I am not speaking now as a constitutionalist; I am speaking simply as one who is desperately anxious about the food position and desperately anxious that agriculture shall be given every opportunity possible to play the enormous part that I believe it can play in the future feeding of this country.

4.42 p.m.


My Lords, I do not propose to speak for more than a few moments, but I think it would be wrong if no word came from the other side of the Border in regard to this question. I am not going into details which have already been so ably expressed, and I do not intend to deal with either the pig population or with increasing that population; but on behalf of the people of the North I should like to support the plea which has been made by the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition for more information. It is perfectly well known to all that it is absolutely vital, whether in war or peace, that you should give, whether it be to troops or to your people, all the information you possibly can. And there is one golden rule far greater even than that: so far as British people are concerned, if you tell them the truth and the whole truth they will respond with everything in their power.

To say the least, the people in the North are anxious about the situation. They are not only anxious; they are extremely puzzled. They do not know what is happening. They see your Lordships meeting here to-day to discuss the situation; they are not really certain in their own minds what the situation is. They ask whether there is a crisis or not. If there is a crisis, they ask, why is your Lordships' House meeting when the other place is not? If there is not a crisis, they ask, why should there be all the pinpricks, the cuts in petrol, the limitation of the number of pigs? There is no doubt in anybody's mind that this matter cannot be treated lightly, and that there is a crisis, and a crisis such as this country has never had to face in the past or perhaps will be called upon to face in the future. You have only to look at the coal situation and the money situation to know that never was there such a time. What we must have is some statement from His Majesty's Government. If the Government do not wish .td make that statement to your Lordships in this House, if they do not wish to recall the other place, the members of which are gallivanting about the country and the Continent, I trust that they will make the statement either through a White Paper or by some other means and tell the country exactly what the situation is. If they do not do so and do not do it very quickly, they will lay themselves open to the charge that either they do not know the answer or else the answer is so serious that they fear even to tell the people.

4.46 p.m.


My Lords, I crave that indulgence which your Lordships so generously extend to a member—and in this case I might say a very nervous member—of your Lordships' House who makes his first speech here. It may seem almost an impertinence for a very ordinary sailor to have the temerity to address the House at all during this grave economic crisis. But I believe there are certain lessons that we may learn from the study and practice of war that are applicable to our troubles of to-day. One principle, fundamental to the successful waging of war, is "the maintenance of the object," the first essential being to get your object clearly defined. Then every plan produced must be examined to see whether it will directly or indirectly help to achieve that object. If not, that plan must be modified so that it does so, or be dropped. Otherwise it would lead to a useless expenditure of life, money, and effort. The Government do not appear to me to be adhering to that principle. There are vast sums of money and great effort being expended on various developments and undertakings, many of them most admirable and welcome to everyone, but they are not contributing towards getting us out of our present difficulties; in fact, if proceeded with now they will make recovery far more difficult, if not impossible.

Another factor that contributed so much to the winning of the war was the extremely high degree of understanding co-operation that developed between the Fighting Services, industry, and every form of war work throughout the country and the Empire and finally between the Allies, combined with a magnificent spirit of comradeship, unselfish sacrifice and service. It is easy even in war, and still more in peace, to imagine one's own job to be so unimportant that it does not matter—but it does. May I quote to your Lordships a few instances from the sea which I am perfectly certain can be equalled in any business or industry ashore? The slackness or inefficiency of one man in a gun's crew may put a turret out of action at a time when the ship is being heavily engaged. A signal incorrectly received or made may lead to a hopeless confusion. Drop in pressure of steam in a boiler may mean less speed when speed is urgently required. I just quote those typical instances of how quite unimportant jobs may, if incorrectly performed, lead to serious results out of all proportion to the apparent importance of the work as judged by the men doing it. In the war, men and women recognized and accepted their personal responsibility and did their jobs to the utmost of their ability. Surely that same spirit and that same acceptance of personal responsibility are required to-day. But they require inspiring leadership, such as we were given in the war, and such as we are not getting to-day—nor can we ever hope to get it from sealed lips.

I have never known men fail to respond to any call when they have been told what was required of them and why, and had confidence in their leaders. I referred just now to the principle of the maintenance of the object. I had in mind then the immediate object. In war it was victory. Your Lordships can define much better than I can what it should be now. Broadly, I assume it to be the economic rehabilitation of our country. May I be allowed to refer to our ultimate object, because that is where, I believe, we went wrong after the First World War and are in danger of doing so now? We talked then of "Homes fit for heroes," and the nearest we got to any object was a better world. In those difficult days, as now, that object so easily and quickly became a purely selfish object—a better world for oneself, one's own family, class or nation. You saw it in foreign affairs as at home. In the international conferences at the League of Nations, most delegates were there to see what they could get out of it with benefit to their own nation regardless of the world as a whole. I submit most humbly that there is only one possible object—a Christian world. With that ever in mind, we have a standard and a guide for our every thought, word and action, whether as an individual, a member of the community, a class or a nation.

4.52 p.m.


My Lords, it has fallen to my lot to follow in the wake of one of the greatest of our leaders of the war at sea. Those of you who have listened to a speech such as his, coming with all his experience and life knowledge of the Service, will understand how it was that he became one of the most popular and inspiring leaders of the Royal Navy, whether on the lower deck or on the quarter deck.

I was astonished to hear the statement made by the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, who told us that the Government were unable to say anything this afternoon. In fact, as regards this policy of sealed lips. shall we call it, we had in the last Session a Motion about the lack of newsprint—the cutting down of newsprint. On that occasion it was suggested by some of the speakers, and certainly by myself, that the Government were not getting their case over to the country. What do we see to-day? We see a section of the miners out on strike, whether by intent or whether by accident I do not know, hut the effect is the same. They are literally holding the country to ransom. They are probably putting it beyond our power really to make a recovery as a nation, or at any rate they are so materially delaying it as may make things incredibly hard for all the rest of the industrial population.

One would have thought that in such circumstances the Government would have seized on an opportunity like this here to-day—a national sounding board, if ever there was one—in order to put their case before the country, not in the rather sectional atmosphere of a trade union conference but in a national assembly. No matter where you look, whether overseas, at Palestine, India, Greece, America, the Marshall Plan and so on, or at home, you see questions crowding in upon the Government; and yet we are to endure this policy of sealed lips. It is the Government's choice and I suppose they know what they are at. But I cannot help agreeing with the noble Lord, Lord Tovey, who preceded me, when he said that if you want to get an Englishman to do anything (or words to that effect) tell him the truth and tell him what is expected of him.

There are two particular questions to which I very much want to refer to-day. Soon after Parliament rose for the Summer Recess, the Minister of Supply issued a directive to the motor industry. The motor industry is, as I am sure other noble Lords in this House will agree, the fourth largest industry in the country. The Minister issued a directive to the motor industry to the effect that it had got to cut down its production models to one per firm, and he indicated that if they did not do so he would take such action, presumably under the Supplies and Services (Extended Purposes) Act which would enable him to do it, as was necessary to compel them to do it, and he left it at that. I rather fancy that anybody who knows anything about industry will know that it is easy enough to issue' a directive of that sort, though to carry it out may be a matter of absolute impossibility. He went even further, because he indicated that, if the process resulted in the smashing of a few small firms, that would not—I am not quoting his words but merely giving the sense of things—be worried about too much.

The point is this, that you cannot switch over a production line, if a firm is producing two or three models, to one model, without an enormous period of preparation. It so happens that one of our biggest firms has concentrated all its production on one model; it took them two and a half years to alter their factory and their production lines in order to bring that about. If you are going to tell the whole of the motor world that they are to concentrate upon one model without giving them time to alter the whole of their factory lay-out and their production lines, it is certain that you are going to have, not increased exports, but very materially decreased exports, and probably men out of work, though perhaps they would be drafted to other industries such as the building of refrigerators and so on, in the process.

Take some of the specialist firms in this country. If you knock out the specialist firms in this country, the foreigner is not going to take the sort of mass-produced little tin box on four wheels than which many of our motor cars being produced to-day are little more. For instance, about the only motor car that can be successfully imported into the United States to-day is the little sports car, one of the Nuffield productions. But if you simply make it impossible for that sort of car to be produced or anything like that—and the factory which produces them is not a large one by comparison with others—if the foreigner cannot get that particular sports car which he wants and; which is sold in Switzerland, France and America, he will certainly get it from Italy or from some other place.

The whole attitude of the Minister of Supply is profoundly unsatisfactory when dealing, as he is, with so important an industry. After all, the motor. industry has deserved well of the country. During the war, where should we have been without these great motor factories and the shadow factories which they were able to set up? If you are going to adopt this sort of totalitarian attitude to them, you are going to make all further development extraordinarily difficult. You are not going to get the exports you want. The sellers' market is vanishing; it has already vanished except so far as Australia and New Zealand are concerned. Therefore, things are not going to get easier; they are going to get more difficult.

Then there is another point. Only quantitative production can keep down prices and if you are going to say to the motor industry of this country: "Everything you have got has to go for export so long as you are able to export in large quantities," all well and good; but, if that sellers' market goes, where have you got to in the home market? What are you doing for the home market? It is all very well to say that essential users can buy cars. Nobody knows what an "essential user" is. It has not been defined. Nobody knows how many of them there are, or where they are. But if you are going to rely on the essential users to produce your market for you, I do not think you will get very far. I should think perhaps a million or a million and a half at the outside and then what? Not only that, but a heavy Purchase Tax has been placed on the high-priced vehicles. This has already put one or two firms out of production, and it is making it impossible for other firms to increase their sales. Such important firms as Rolls Royce and Bentley may very easily feel the draught in due course. Another point about the Purchase Tax is that a lot of people think that it is profoundly dishonest to take the Purchase Tax from people in respect of new cars which they cannot get and, if and when they get them, they cannot run. A lot of people say that it is profoundly dishonest, and that if any private individual did it he would very soon land himself in a Court of Law.

The other thing that is being discussed, of course, is this question of the withdrawal of the petrol ration. The indignation that this has aroused is really enormous. In common, no doubt, with other members of your Lordships' House, I have had a number of letters about this question of petrol, and I have had an opportunity of discussing it with all and sundry. The point really is this. The first important declaration that was made about it came from the Chancellor of the Exchequer in another place. He said that the private motorist would be unlikely to suffer very important cuts in petrol. There are various other things, but I am giving your Lordships the important points. He was followed by the Prime Minister on August 6. I have Hansard here and the Prime Minister said this: In his statement on June 30, the Chancellor said we would reduce our imports of petrol. A reduction of 500,000 tons would save approximately £4,000,000. We intend to effect at least this saving. This will necessitate a reduction of the basic allowance for private motorists by one-third and a reduction of ten per cent in supplementary allowances. There we are. That was a perfectly clear statement from the Leader of the Socialist Government as to what was in store, and everybody made their plans accordingly. Then, on. August 27 the B.B.C. were brought: in, and they announced the total withdrawal of the basic ration. Why? What happened between August 6 and August 27, a period of three Weeks? Had not the Government got some sort of plan? Could not the Government have told Parliament on August 6, "We are probably going to withdraw the whole of the basic petrol ration altogether"? Why lead the country up the garden path, and let everybody make plans on the basis of a basic petrol ration?

Then there is another point. I am perfectly certain that the motoring world is just as ready as any other section of the population to share in the general burden, provided it is done in the proper way; but if you are going to withdraw the basic petrol ration from he private motorist, why do you not at he same time withdraw is from the motor coach? You are only subjecting the motor coach owners and companies to a ten per cent. reduction of their supplies. But consider what is going: to be the feeling of the average motorist—he may be a humble motor-cyclist who is not allowed to have his gallon of petrol, or whatever it is—when he sees the Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society motor coaches going off to Brighton or to Southend, or sees large parties going off in their buses to the wakes at Blackpool and the like. My Lords, that is not a fair share. It is not fair play, and nobody considers it is for a moment. I may say that only the other day I had the opportunity of talking to a number of motor cyclists, and one of these young fellows, aged about 27 or 28, told me that as long as he had voted he had always voted Socialist, but that he was not going to vole Socialist again. I told him I was rather sorry to hear him say that, because I thought he was making the whole thing a personal issue and he might think a but more of the country. Put that is how it struck him.

Then there is the question of the little garage struggling to get going again, and all that that means to many an ex-Service man. I was astounded this afternoon to hear one of the leaders of the motor industry who sits in your Lordships' House say to the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, that he was talking nonsense. There are one or two members of the Socialist Party in this House who are connected with the motor industry and they know, just as well as I, that the withdrawal of this petrol ration and its possible effects are a. most serious thing. It is going to be most serious from the point of view of the public. They know—or if they do not know, they soon will—that people up and down the country are cursing them and will not forget when the next occasion comes.

Then we come to the effect of the withdrawal of the ration. Look at the case of the railway services which have reduced the queues at the stations at busy periods and so on. You are going to add to the bus queues, you are going to add to the train queues. Are the public services, which you have already cut by ten per cent. on the basis of a normal usage, going to be able to compete with the extra traffic? Then again, almost on the morrow of the withdrawal of the ration, came the announcement in the public Press that the Government were considering the question of permits for railway travel. Are we going to have to get permits for railway travel? Will the noble Earl, Lord Airlie, have to get a permit to go to Scotland? I do not know; but, anyway, there it is, and a fall in revenue has been effected. The important thing is this. We get down to the question of essential users. They have not been defined. Nobody knows how many there are, or what the qualification is. I think that the Government should make some statement as soon as they can as to whether they have issued any directives on this subject of an essential user, because naturally everybody wants to know. What is one man's luxury and what is one man's pleasure may be the next man's necessity, and I do hope the Government will realize the seriousness of this, at any rate.

I do not want to take up too much of your Lordships' time, and I do not want to labour the point, but there is one other thing that I do beg the Government to do—to make a statement on how long this withdrawal of the ration is going to last. Everybody wants to know that. Unless you tell industry that, and unless you tell the motorist that, I do not think they can adequately make their plans for the future. I think that the Government must give some sort of indication as to how long this ban is going to last, and what efforts they are making to try and remedy the situation, such as getting petrol from other sources of supply—perhaps from Iran or Iraq. I hope that the Government will take note of these questions. We shall come back to them again. With regard to many of the questions which have been raised in the House to-day, the Government, if they persist in their policy of sealed lips, may be the best judges from their own point of view, but from the Tory point of view I should only be too glad.

5.10 p.m.


My Lords, both the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, and the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, have emphasized, in view of the changed character of the debate, the propriety nevertheless of noble Lords taking advantage of the opportunity of asking questions which they would have put had the debate been different. That is an encouragement to any member of the House who wishes to ask questions which he thinks are both immediate and pertinent from the economic angle. Naturally, many of us would like to have ranged rather wider. The effective manner in which the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, covered many aspects of the economic situation that are worrying us will suffice. No doubt many of your Lordships will have read this morning a letter which appeared in The Times from Professor Jewkes, who is Director of Economic Studies at Manchester University. I think that if the Government were able to give an answer to the points which he raises in his admirable letter they would go a long way to helping solve our perplexity.

I propose to confine myself to the economic approach. In doing so I would ask the indulgence of your Lordships to allow me to quote from the Memorandum which was presented to the Government recently by the Federation of British Industries, which, after all, is the representative voice of organized industry in this country. On the subject of controls the Memorandum states: It is in our view more than ever necessary that the Government should recognize the feeling in industry that controls are imposed for control's sake. They must dissipate that feeling and must prove that in fact controls are subject to constant review. The country can no longer afford to retain a single unnecessary man in a control office who can be released for more productive work, nor can industry effectively operate under the delays inseparable from controls. The noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, made a very effective point in regard to the need for reviewing the cases of departmentally employed people. The paragraph which I have just read, I submit, supports what he said.

I would ask a question relating to the wool textile industry which, as your Lordships know, contributes very largely to the export trade of this country. It is an industry which the Government have laid under an obligation to contribute still more substantially to our exports. I would like to say in advance that I have taken the trouble to consult those who are well qualified to give authoritative and representative opinion for the industry. Having served for a long period as the head of the recognized industries' organization myself, I have good reason to understand how matters work. I ask the Government whether they will discontinue the present system of licensing, of quotas, and of controls.

The situation is that subsequent to the first announcement of ceiling prices there has been an advance in world prices equivalent to 6o per cent. The fixed price which the Government set continually lagged behind the world market, discouraging domestic users from taking their appropriate proportion of offerings in world auctions at origin. The whole structure has become a mockery, and may well develop into a scandal, compelling one of two alternatives, both very menacing: either complete price confusion in the industry, or a call for prodigious subsidies at the expense of the taxpayer. Such a call is surely inappropriate at the present time, as the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, has emphasized.

For that reason, I urge the Government to act vigorously and swiftly, and from an early date to abolish the whole absurd price control structure and put an end to this misty fantasy, relieve fruitless form filling and the accompanying policing which it requires, and release for productive effort the personnel so employed. This would reduce the considerable stocks of merchandise which are now impounded and hasten them into circulation. I hope the Government will take timely warning from the catastrophic movements of 19191920 against monkeying by domestic bureaucratically-directed control with a commodity which is subject to world influence. These licensing quotas and controls for the raw material section, in view of ample supplies, all of sterling origin, are already manifestly pointless. Any temporary disturbances in the spinning and manufacturing sections would quickly compose themselves. Retain only the directional controls to achieve exports and the quantitative clothes rationing system.

I would ask what justification there can be for any of us here, or for the millions of citizens in full employment, to Lave part of our apparel paid for at the cost of the general body of taxpayers. There can be no reason for it. An increase in the subsidy under the heading of apparel for the community in general, however desirable, is dangerous and too expensive to-day. If it is thought that concessions are desirable why do not the Government issue supplementary clothes coupons to categorized gainfully employed workers? I would like to add that nothing I hive said is to be taken as a detraction of the admirable war control work which was done under Sir Harry Shackleton. But I see no reason to carry this blighting, complicated frustration two years into the peace. I say that this is an unnecessary handicap on a very important dollar-earning industry.

Another point to which I would lifer has already been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, but it is important and I wish to ask a question upon it. It relates to lost production. My quest on is with regard to the employment of Polish people in this country. Too many evidences exist that these people are not being used to the full in industry, and production is therefore being lost. Surely these gallant allies were promised by the late Government—and it was a pledge to be assumed, presumably, by succeeding Governments—that they should have, if they chose, a status equivalent to British citizenship. There is a tendency to forget all the achievements of the Polish Fore The Polish squadron was the highest scorer in the Battle of Britain, and we know what their bravery was at Monte Cassino and in many other fields of war. Lip service is being paid to their usefulness in industry. There are daily reports in the Press too widely seen of obstruction or resistance to their acceptance. I personally produced proof of this matter to Sir Stafford Cripps and Mr. George Isaacs and received a letter which admits that these practices are not in accordance with the announced intentions of His Majesty's Government. For that reason I ask the Government to insist on their being placed and gratefully accepted in industry, as the national production will be thereby increased.

Before I leave the subject I would draw attention to what is a manifest absurdity. It has been suggested in some directions by Ministers that in the event of a Pole—and the Poles are extremely intelligent and adaptable—being trained by an employer for work involving skill in a particular industry, if at any time in the future any British worker, without regard to his skill or suitability in the opinion of the employer, should offer himself for employment, then the Polish worker who has been trained and is fully qualified shall be dismissed. I want the Government to nail that point. It is obviously illogical and inhumane and is contributing towards this loss of production. Those are two points which I have presumed to put in the form of questions to the Government, and which would have been put in normal debate. I hope they deserve a reply. They apply substantially to an industry which can contribute an appreciable amount to the increased target which is asked for, and I hope early action may follow.

5.22 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, in his remarks this afternoon has rightly emphasized that the Government must have the co-operation and help of the people of this country if "Operation Recovery" is to succeed. Some have called it "Operation Restriction," but I prefer to call it "Operation Recovery." Help and co-operation will be in the hearts of the people only if such restrictions as are imposed are generally believed to be really necessary. The moment people think a restriction is unnecessary and petty, it has the very opposite effect: it breeds discontent and opposition. It breeds not only discontent and opposition to that particular item, but general discontent and opposition to other measures which are probably very desirable and necessary. It is an evil, spreading all the time.

There are in particular two restrictions to which great opposition has been expressed to me. One is to the abolition of the basic allowance of petrol. I am not going to say anything on that matter, because it has been very ably dealt with by the noble Earl, Lord Howe. There is, however, one other which has not been mentioned this afternoon. I hesitate very much to mention it at all, because at first it seems rather petty, but I do know it is causing a great deal of irritation quite out of proportion to its importance. I refer to the complete ban on taking overseas any jewellery or furs except in very special circumstances when the person has to undergo some particular social obligations. I cut out a letter from The Times the other day which reads as follows: My wife left for Paris yesterday. All the jewellery she had with her consisted of one ring. I received the following telegram from her this morning: 'Arrived safely Customs Dover took engagement ring.' Is further comment necessary in these days of petty persecutions? Women generally talk a good deal and the opposition spreading among women to this particular restriction will go a long way.

As a matter of fact, there is a very simple way of getting over it. Every traveller has to go to his bank manager and have marked on his passport the amount of currency which he is taking overseas. It would be quite simple at the same time as the currency is marked on the passport to mark "I fur coat, 2 rings and 1 necklace," which could be checked when the traveller returns. There would obviously have to be a limit of a few items, but it is a simple solution. It is one of those occasions when perfectly innocent decent people are having to undergo these restrictions because once in two or three hundred times a crook tries to sell things overseas, a course which I do not think the ordinary decent person ever considers. These few remarks are just to emphasize the danger of imposing petty restrictions which really get people's backs up and not only breed opposition to that particular thing but breed and spread opposition to all the restrictions which the Government impose.

5.27 p.m.


My Lords, I will not detain your Lordships for more than three minutes, since the purpose for which I rise can be dealt with in a very few sentences. That purpose strikes a novel note in this debate, and I hope it may be an agreeable surprise to the noble Viscount opposite, the Deputy Leader of the House, since it is to express satisfaction, and a very lively satisfaction, on one announcement which has been made by His Majesty's Government since we adjourned three weeks ago, and to base upon that expression of satisfaction a request to which I hope he will give some attention, even though his lips may be sealed this afternoon. I want to congratulate the Government very warmly on one thing which they have done, which is to summon a meeting between all the nations of the Commonwealth to discuss how together we can deal with this problem. I understand that meeting is to take place in November in this country, and on this side of the House we welcome that decision and would wish more power and every conceivable success to that conference.

The request to which I hope the noble Viscount will attend, since his lips are sealed, is this. As the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, said, there has been going on for a long time past a conference at Geneva, working out a new trade charter. One of our representatives there has made some rather outspoken remarks about the attitude we should adopt in regard to that charter, remarks with which, as a matter of fact, I find myself in complete sympathy. If I am. not mistaken, a charter has actually been evolved to which we have given provisional agreement—a charter which commits us to further undertakings of various kinds, and to further forms of international control in regard to our foreign trade and our imperial trade. it is a charter which may quite conceivably interfere seriously with the group co-operation which we on this side of the House believe to be the only line along which salvation lies. What I would ask is that before that charter goes any further, before it is discussed, as I understand it is going to be discussed, at a conference at Havana in November, it shall be made available to members of this House and to everybody in this country. We shall then know what is going to be discussed at Havana and what we are being committed to, and can offer what comments occur to us before the representatives of His Majesty's Government attend the Havana conference.

5.30 p.m.


My Lords, I do not propose to detain your Lordships for more than a very few minutes, but I would like to take this opportunity of beseeching His Majesty's Government, when the opportunity is right in their eyes—if they will not do it in Parliament as we think they ought—to place the real facts of the crisis before the country. They have never yet done so. They nave not dared to do so. The very term "dollar crisis" is a misnomer, and in my view very misleading and confusing to the public. The crisis is not caused by dollars or by the absence of dollars. The crisis is caused by the fact that we are consuming a great deal more than we are producing. That is a state of affairs which cannot be remedied, as His Majesty's Government have just proved, merely by borrowing dollars and spending them. Therefore, I assert that even yet the public have not been told the truth and have no idea of the truth. Those of my friends who are in close touch with labour opinion in our great factories and industries assure me that the men in the workshops (and I think clearly also the men in the mines) have no real realization either of the nature or the gravity of the crisis.

Of all the duties which lie upon His Majesty's Government the first and greatest duty is to tell the public what are the real facts, what the remedy is, and then to give a lead. None of those things have yet been done to the extent that the situation requires, and it is not difficult to understand why. It is because His Majesty's Government themselves bear a very great share of responsibility for the crisis in which we find ourselves. The fact that we, as a nation, are consuming much more than we are producing to a very large extent due in the first pace to the propaganda of the Labour Party, which led millions of people to believe that once a Labour Government was in power everyone would get more wages for less work. That, in fact, is what has happened in a great many cases; people are getting more wages for less work, and that is one of the primary causes of the crisis.

The other responsibility from which His Majesty's Government cannot escape is that of having hampered industry to an unparalleled and quite unnecessary degree by the multitude of vexatious controls and interferences which they impose. There are now 2,000,000 men and women in Government and local government employment. If half of those men and women were returned to productive industry, and productive industry were freed from this interference from outside, it would be able to produce a great deal more than it can at present. I can quite understand that it is very difficult for the Government to go back on either of those issues, but until they retrace their steps we are bound to get deeper and deeper into the bog. I believe that it must inevitably be found that the only way out of this crisis is by the path of moderate deflation and allowing the price mechanism to work. That would be a bitter pill for the Socialist Party, but it is the medicine that this nation will ultimately have to take either sooner or later.

I have risen with two particular objects. The first is to support the plea of my noble friend Lord Barnby that justice should be done to our Polish Allies in the matter of employment in this country. With the nation in its present condition it is insane, of course, not to make use of the services of the Poles which are being offered to us, but in view of the pledges that have been made by this Government and their predecessors to our gallant Polish Allies I say that the present banging and bolting of the door on the Poles who wish to enter our industries is nothing short of a disgrace to the trade union movement.

I also wish to reinforce very strongly the plea made by the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, this afternoon for a lead from the Government on the question of agriculture. The noble Earl, whose knowledge of agriculture we all acknowledge, asked His Majesty's Government a number of very pointed but quite vital questions. Although we accept reluctantly the fact that no statement is going to be made from those Benches this afternoon, I do beg His Majesty's Government to answer the noble Earl's questions, on the wireless, in the Press or in some other way as soon as possible, because I can assure them that they will not get the effort required out of the farmers, and ought not to get the effort required out of farmers, unless and until those questions have been answered. Whatever the Government may do, a farmer has to make his plans ahead before he takes action, because he has to meet his banker in the end and pay his way. Therefore, you cannot expect and ought not to expect farmers—who after all are only business men in a particular sphere—to undertake commitments unless points like those mentioned by my noble friend have been settled. There is another aspect to this matter. Of all our deficiencies, food is the most serious, and of all the industries which the Government are affecting, agriculture is the one least capable of withstanding indecision and delay, because a farm cannot stand still. If a farmer does not take a decision at the right time he has to wait another twelve months before the matter can be reviewed, because the season when that particular operation can take place has passed. Accordingly, speed is even more important in regard to decisions concerning agriculture than in the case of many other industries.

I would like to add two questions to those asked by the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, this afternoon; or rather may I add one question and then venture to make a suggestion? The noble Earl asked how much steel was being allocated for the manufacture of agricultural machinery in order to implement the Government's programme. I hope the Government will tell us also how much steel is being allocated for improving agricultural equipment and agricultural buildings generally. I ask that question because I personally have had an application I made three months ago for a new cow-yard held up through shortage of steel, and if I am allowed to build that cow-yard it will only be through the assistance of the noble Earl who represents the Agricultural Department in your Lordships' House. The impression I have is that the Government have embarked on their new and latest agricultural programme, and on their appeal to farmers, without making any calculations as to what steel and other materials there were available to farmers to carry it out.


And houses.


The noble Viscount says "and houses." It is with regard to houses that, with great respect, I would like to make a suggestion. We all know how long it takes to build a house. How then is it possible to get more workers into agriculture with the speed that is required? It is a fact that there are several thousand houses now being built by rural district councils in country districts, which are being completed every day in small quantities. Up to now only a small fraction of those houses have been allotted to agricultural workers. A question was asked in your Lordships' House about this just before the Adjournment, and I think the answer was that not more than about 1,000 houses had been allocated in all to agricultural workers. The suggestion I make is that for the duration of the crisis the county agricultural executive committees shall have the right of letting those houses for the rural district councils—that they should be made the agents of the rural district councils and entrusted with the task of letting these houses. If the matter were placed in the hands of the county executive agricultural committees we should find that more of these houses were allotted to agricultural workers.

Unless something of this sort is done we shall not get more Englishmen into agriculture. We may get displaced persons from Europe, living in hostels, and we may get a certain amount of assistance in that way which certainly ought not to be refused. But there are all sorts of limitations to that policy in any industry so scattered as agriculture. If we want a permanent revival in agriculture, as His Majesty's Government have said, then we shall have to provide permanent homes for the young Englishmen growing up in our villages, who will go elsewhere if they cannot get the houses at home. Therefore I venture to suggest that as an emergency measure these houses now being built by the rural district councils should in fact be requisitioned by the Ministry of Agriculture and placed at the disposal of the agricultural industry. I apologize for having detained your Lordships' House much longer than I had intended. I will conclude by saying that I hope that when we next meet His Majesty's Government will have discovered a policy and wilt be able to explain it.

5.45 p.m.


My Lords, I only want to suggest a diagnosis of the situation and lines on which it might be met. May I remind your Lordships that as long ago as 1936 the late Lord Salisbury, who occupied a unique position in the affection and regard of your Lordships, used these words? The cause of the world's state is not economic; the cause is moral. It is there where the evil lies. It is the want of religion which we ought to possess… . What you want are God-guided personalities, which make God-guided nationalities, to make a new world. All other ideas of economic adjustments are too small really to touch the centre of the evil. Surely Lord Salisbury spoke with prophetic insight, for his words apply with increased force to the most serious crisis in our history, which we are now discussing. The answer lies surely in the personality and the character of our people—the Christian England to which the noble Lord, Lord Tovey, referred in a maiden speech which we were all so glad to hear.

Another statesman, Mr. Arthur Norval, President of the South African Board of Trade, who has recently visited his country, made a similar statement. Formerly, as a Dutch South African he hated the British with every fibre of his being, and devoted himself to driving them out of South Africa. Now, owing to a change of heart, he has worked to bring unity to his country, and at Geneva to help to solve the problems of Britain in her crisis. These are his words, spoken in London just a month ago: I am an economist, and nothing will convince me that this crisis is economic. What you are facing is not an economic crisis; it is a moral crisis. And it will be solved only on. a moral basis. The tragedy of this country is that it is in the grip of materialism. Britain believes her solution lies in the dollar, instead of believing that. it lies in herself. That is the tragedy. Britain has lost faith in herself, because you in Britain have lost faith in God. I listen to this man with great respect because I know he has had the courage to apply his own solution to himself.

Like Mr. Norval, I also had the privilege this summer of meeting statesmen of many nations at the World Assembly for Moral Rearmament at Caux, in Switzerland. These statesmen from many countries had a full and free discussion on the European situation, and we were agreed that the answer to these problems lay in a moral and spiritual renaissance; and this was being worked out in practice. It was not exhortation but application: simple honesty and integrity applied homes, industry and national life. Here was an ideology capable of meeting the challenge of Godless materialism and putting democracy on the offensive. It was being forged and fought for with passion. philosophy and plan.

The key to the economic situation, we have heard, is coal. Many delegates and miners from our own coalfields were there. I have seen how this ideology can solve the problems in that field. These delegates told how a new spirit consequent on the showing of the industrial play, The Forgotten Factor (which many of your Lordships have seen) in one Midland pit, where the target had never been attained, resulted in the target being passed every week—and passed, too, when that target had actually been raised by the Coal Board, with the full approval of the miners. In a Scottish pit, too, the miners related that absenteeism had fallen in their section from 20 per cent. to 3 per cent. Here, I believe, is the true inner incentive that can save us as a nation and lead us to put every effort into some service that meets the need of the nation and brings it through its troublous years to the Britain for which we fought and for which so many died. It will thus enable us to save ourselves by our exertions and Europe by our example.

5.50 p.m.


My Lords, may I detain your Lordships for a few minutes to put forward a suggestion which has not yet been mentioned and which will not be popular in this House or in political circles generally, but which is entertained by many people in this country? Appeals have been made to the people to compare this crisis, the economic crisis of 1947, with the military crisis of 194o. It seems to me futile for politicians to go round the country telling the people that they have got to do this or that unless Parliament sets the example and takes a step which had a great deal to do with our winning the war, which is to have a Coalition Government wherein all Parties will have their representatives whom they can trust. The cause of half the distrust in the country at the moment is that people are being told that whatever steps the Government are taking are wrong from the first, and the Government, because they have to depend upon their followers, are reluctant to govern with a strong hand because they have to look over their shoulders and please their followers. If we had a Cabinet of first-class men, all trusted by the nation, who put the national interests before their political interests or before their political futures, or before anything else like that, the country would he happier to await their decisions.

As it is now, the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, and Lord Swinton, have both stressed the fact that Party politics are out of place at the present time. I am sure that that is the opinion of a very great number of people in this country. But you cannot say that there are no Party politics. There is a Party feeling running through the speeches to-day and, if there is no Party feeling in this House, there is in another place. Up and down the country people are being told either that it is all wrong or that it is all right. It is divided leadership, and I suggest that the two Front Benches should come together—not necessarily the same individuals. If any man feels that he has committed himself too deeply or that he is not prepared to serve in a Cabinet with others, well, let him get out and let somebody else come in. Surely we are not bereft of talent in this country. Many of the Ministers who did best in the Coalition Government during the war were practically unknown until they took office. It was that fact of their independence which contributed to their prestige. They have given that up now and they have accepted a Party label. But I am sure that what is wanted now is a strong Government, and we are going to require a strong Government very much more in the near future than we do now.

We talk about miners. Why are the miners on strike? They have had everything given to them. There is only one reason, and that is that they are permeated with Communism; they have Communist agents all through the mines and it is obvious that the minority of the miners are swaying the majority in this way. Their executive officers are Communists, and no good Communist can serve two masters; he cannot serve the British people and also obey his masters in Moscow. If anybody doubts that point, let him read the minutes of the Canadian Royal Commission that inquired into the giving away of secrets by men holding positions of trust and confidence. British military officers and Canadian military officers were not free from that; there were British and Canadian military officers included in that.

I believe it is a fact that this country wants a strong Government to rally the great patriotic mass; we can leave the outside fringes out of it. I suggest that we should have a Coalition Government for a limited time, that the best men available should serve on it and that we should trust them to get us out of this mess as others did during the war.


My Lords, I will not detain your Lordships' House for more than a minute, but I would like it to be known that, whilst my colleagues and myself have sat in silence, we have not been uninterested in the speeches to which we have listened this afternoon. The main purpose of my rising is to give that assurance to the noble Marquess, who earlier in our proceedings asked me to give him an assurance that the Government would be willing to recall Parliament during the Recess if they were convinced that this course was necessary in the national interest. I am very willing to give him that assurance, and I think that your Lordships might well reflect that the fact that Parliament was not prorogued on August 13 last is evidence of the desire of His Majesty's Government to prolong the Session with this very purpose in view—namely, that we should be able, if necessary, to recall Parliament at the shortest possible notice at any time before October 20. That should give the noble Marquess all the assurance which he needs.


My Lords, I would like to say how very grateful I am for the assurance which has been so readily given me. I would also like to say how very glad I am that the noble Viscount and other members of the Government Front Bench were not uninterested in the debate. That is perhaps the greatest justification for having it!

On Question, Motion agreed to, and ordered accordingly.