§ 4.46 p.m.
§ Debate continued.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
My Lords, before the House adjourned I was replying to my noble friend's question about expenses. In my view, no case has been made out for an increase in business expenses. I think your Lordships will agree that even when we consider countries other than the United States, great care has to be exercised. In a country such as Switzerland, for example, there can be so much camouflaged holiday-making, under the guise of business. Let us be frank: it goes on to some degree. All that has to be paid for in gold, and it is a serious drain upon the gold position of this country. I am informed by the Bank of England that although hundreds of thousands of 1174 grants are made for business expenses abroad, especially to America, the number of complaints they have received of the inadequacy of those grants has been infinitesimal. The Treasury and the Bank of England are always prepared to consider any case where there are exceptional circumstances.
I think I have replied, perhaps inadequately but to the best of my ability, to the points which my noble friend Lord Strabolgi raised in the course of his speech. I would now briefly, but in no way discourteously (I am sure your Lordships do not wish to be delayed), deal with the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye. I thought his contribution to the debate was a rather dismal digging up of the past and a forlorn hope for the future. The only fact he brought out was this dreadful charge of inflating the figures of our exports by those that went to the Channel Islands. I would inform the noble Lord that when the Channel Islands were included in the export market—and they are not now—their imports did not amount to 1 per cent. of the total exports of this country.
I do not know whether the noble Lord desires me to go into the past speeches of my right honourable friend the Minister of Health, or my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for War. I expect that, not only now but in the future, I shall have enough trouble in being answerable for my own statements, so perhaps I had better not take on the responsibility for theirs. But, since this is the last time your Lordships' House will meet before Christmas, when there is supposed to be always a spirit of good will to all. I wonder whether the noble Lord cannot find more joy in his heart over two sinners who have, perhaps, repented, than over all the noble Lords opposite—who, of course, never need any repentance! I do not think I can say anything more in reply to what the noble Lord has said, except that I think—and I am sure he will agree with me—that in the year 1948, in spite of all our difficulties and troubles—and, perhaps I might say, in spite of some pessimists—British industry has done an outstanding job. If in 1949 we can go on in the same way, I feel certain that the forecast of my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that by 1952, by our united endeavours, we shall have pulled this country back on to an even 1175 keel, will be fulfilled. And I am sure that the effort will have been justified and the reward will be great.
§ 4.52 p.m.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his very full reply, and for the way he has dealt with the points which I have raised. I want briefly to comment on only two matters. With regard to coal, I am not quite clear whether the actual sales of coal—such as we can spare—will be left in private hands, as I submit they should be, subject to some measure of control as to which markets should have preference and priority, or whether the National Coal Board are going into the coal exporting business. If it is the latter, I hope the Government will think again. The coal exporting business of this country has been built up over many generations, and it depends on all kinds of factors, including knowledge of customers, and that sort of thing. I do not think the National Coal Board would make a very great success of it, unless, of course, they employed the same people who have been doing it in the past, if they could get hold of them. I hope that what is meant is that, while certain markets must have the coal as a high priority, the actual business will be left in the hands of those who have been doing it for so many years.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
This is the procedure. The National Coal Board are responsible for giving effect to the Government's coal exports programmes. The Board usually begin by reaching a general understanding about prices and qualities with representatives of the foreign country concerned. At this stage, of course, there is no question of commercial contracts. The National Coal Board then advise their various divisions of the quantities, qualities, and prices of the coal they are to provide for export to a particular country in a particular period. At this point the negotiation of commercial contracts begins between the United Kingdom coal exporters and the coal importers in the foreign countries. I think that answers the noble Lord's point.
I shall have the pleasure of reading my noble friend's remarks in Hansard to-morrow, and I feel sure they will satisfy me. The second point I must make—which is important—is on the question of credits and banking facilities for the entrepôt trade. That is a trade which does not often touch this country at all, but out of which we make very useful profits, because of our connections, our financial facilities and so on. I was not making any complaint about the Department of Overseas Trade but, frankly, I do not know how much the Treasury to-day, under present conditions, can influence banking policy. The Bank of England is now a nationalised institution, and I should have thought they could influence it a good deal. What I would suggest is that there is some need of latitude and a relaxing of restrictions there, even at some risk, in order to take advantage of the tremendous opportunities there are at the present time for developing the enterpôt trade. I am much obliged to my noble friend; I again thank him for the trouble he has taken in his reply, and I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.