§ 2.57 p.m.
§ Debate resumed (according to Order) on the Motion moved yesterday by Lord Amwell—namely, That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty as followeth:
§ "Most Gracious Sovereign—We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the most gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament."
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
My Lords, after the announcement by the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, of the early demise of the Government, we resume the debate on the gracious Speech. We are indebted to the Government for two speeches at the close and the opening of a Session: there is the King's Speech on the prorogation, in which the Government eulogise their Parliamentary and other achievements during the past year, and then in the gracious Speech at the beginning of the Session they announce their policy and their legislative proposals for the future. The Opposition have no opportunity of commenting upon the record of the past in the prorogation speech, but the debate on the King's Speech at the opening of Parliament traditionally gives to the Opposition their principal opportunity to look backwards and forwards and to criticise in both directions, and obviously it would be fitting that I should follow that traditional course.
The Government spokesmen have often said that it is unfair to pick and choose and to select a particular period—that we ought not to take a single year although quite a lot of mischief can be 32 done in a year. However, accepting that view of a fair test, may I take a backward view over the three years during which the Government have been in complete power? If I may take an analogy, I would point out that we recently passed a Companies Act for which the Lord Chancellor, quite rightly, has claimed great credit, though he has also assigned some of the credit to all of us who joined in making the Bill a success. I think it would be not inappropriate that we should apply to the Government the provisions and the standards of that Act. It concerns itself in the first place with a prospectus, with the importance of putting into a prospectus only what is accurate, and with holding out in a prospectus only those prospects which have a reasonable chance of materialising. We have had the prospectus. We have had several written prospectuses or prospecti, and they were supported by speeches by the principal promoters. I will not weary your Lordships by reading the prospectus at length because it is all so enticingly summed-up in a publication called Straight Left (whatever that may mean) which was the Labour Party election broadsheet and which summed up the whole of the offer to the public in these words:Socialism, in short, is just another word for wise housekeeping—the only sure road to economic efficiency, social well-being and"—and this, I think, is the best and brightest jewel in the crown—real freedom for all.Then, of course, there was to be an easier way of life. The most alluring if most fallacious presentation of that has already engaged your Lordships' attention, in the well-known book Why you should be a Socialist—a "completely revised and up-to-date version" by Mr. Strachey, in 1944. In that work it was stated that:The level of wages depends on several factors, but not in the least on how much the worker produces …. Allied with this propaganda in industriousness,"—that is Mr. Strachey's word, not mine—you will remember the old 'produce more' cry. I suppose we shall get it again after this war too.It is fair to say that Lord Shepherd, when we discussed this matter before, repudiated that, but he repudiated it three years late. Perhaps if we are to have a "completely revised and up-to-date 33 version" again in 1950—if that is the appropriate date—Sir Stafford Cripps will be invited to correct the proofs of the new edition.
It was all to be so easy. The New Jerusalem was to be a very easy city to sack. There were vast profits which by one shot, one lucky shot, in the ballot box would be transferred from the shareholders to the proletariat. In fact, the profits were only 3d. or 4d. in every £ of turnover. That truth, like other truths, was concealed in the prospectus. There was the agreeable fallacy that the State would pay. Of course it became rather disagreeable after it was found that there were no more rich to soak, and that payment by the State meant purchase tax, P.A.Y.E. and higher taxes on beer and tobacco. But the most insidious, wicked and fallacious of all these things was the cry of class warfare—the suggestion that the employer was the common enemy, though, as I think Lord Amwell told us yesterday, both Christianity and economics have long since taught us that we are all members one of another.
Even on foreign affairs, in respect of which one would have thought more discretion was called for and might be given, all was to be plain sailing if only we voted Labour. The Foreign Secretary, Mr. Ernest Bevin, in June, 1945, said:Left can speak to Left in comradeship and in confidence.Well, we have heard them doing it. He went on in the same speech, or in another speech on the same day, to say:With a Labour Government in office, which would be believed and understood by Russia and other countries, a new atmosphere would be created and the whole international situation would be changed.It has changed indeed; but not for the better. I am not saying that it is Mr. Bevin's fault, but I am entitled to refer to the promises on the prospectus on which people were invited to subscribe and vote. Mr. Bevin went even further—this was after the Election, when no further promises were called for—and was rash enough to stake his political future on solving the Palestine problem. Perhaps, after all, Mr. Churchill would have been more effective!
That was the prospectus, and many, if not a complete majority, subscribed. What are the results after three years of 34 power? How does the account stand? As the Companies Act lays down, the first duty of the directors is to give to the shareholders, year by year, a fair, full and accurate account of how the business is going. That certainly was not done during the first two years, and the Government were helped in the concealment and camouflage of the true position, as everyone in your Lordships' House now recognises, and as most people in the country see also, by two things. First, we were living on—and under the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, wasting—the accumulations of one hundred years of free enterprise. Secondly, we were living on American charity. But behind that camouflage the truth was concealed long after the least intelligent must have known. Dr. Dalton went on squandering the American Loan which everyone expected—and which, indeed, he had announced—would last for two years more than it actually did. Then there was Mr. Shinwell, in another office. Everyone except the Minister of Fuel knew that there was going to be a coal crisis. Unfortunately, that was true. Everyone was right, but Mr. Shinwell was the person in power who could, by his inactivity, lose us six months of recovery.
What action in these years have the Government taken to make the dream come true, to rebuild real prosperity, to stimulate industry and enterprise, by which alone we can live and pay our way? In our artificial community, as Sir Stafford Cripps so often tells us now—repudiating Mr. Strachey—it is not only social services but employment and our very life which depend on efficient and economical production—and that in an infinite variety of industries selling increasingly in competition in markets all over the world. Production in all those industries has one essential counterpart and base, if I may so describe it: there are other industries and services on which it depends—fuel, power, transport and steel. Unless all our industries are well served by these, the costs mount and they may become prohibitive, and thus it will be made harder for us to compete in the world markets. All this is very elementary and fundamental. But what contribution has been made to this vital need? Basic industries have been nationalised. The material result is apparent for all 35 to see—huge losses, balanced only after they have been made, by rising prices.
Take the loss in the first year on coal. I think I am right in saying that the sum was £23,000,000. That is offset by a profit, so called, of £1,000,000—that, I think, is the profit which has been made. But how has it been made? Not by increased efficiency, but by raising prices and so raising the costs of all the competitive industries, of power and of transport. Before the war, the average pithead price of all classes of coal was 17s. 4d. In the second quarter of this year, the average pithead price had risen to 47s. 1d. Take the case of civil aviation. There the loss cannot even keep within the generous target which was set. And electricity—well, I am not quite sure where we stand in regard to electricity. I observed the other day that the noble Lord, Lord Citrine, forecast a heavy loss, though immediately he had done so the Authority of which he is the Chairman denied it. Perhaps Lord Citrine felt that every nationalised Board were bound to show a loss. What is more probable is that his Board raised the prices in time. But it does suggest some little lack of co-ordination at the centre.
On the moral side, the human side, the result surely is disillusionment. Nationalisation has not given that contentment which many people genuinely believed and hoped it would bring. Certainly the remote control of the Coal Board, and these other central authorities, does not produce a closer human relationship. And this failure is not peculiar to this country. Look at what has happened in the nationalised industries in France. It may be said that in France they are faced with the most direct Communist attack; and I think that is true. We have to face something which is not so serious, if we take it in time; but do not underrate the insidious danger here. That being so, does it not show that Socialism, nationalisation, is not of itself the answer by which Communism can be conquered? It is not the way by which these human relations are to be put right. You do not eliminate Communism by Socialist ideology.
Let us take another country, farther away but closer to us in ideas. Let us take Australia. Perhaps your Lordships observed the extremely interesting speech 36 reported early last month as having been made by the Prime Minister, Mr. Chifley, on the subject of coal nationalisation. What makes it deeply interesting is that he made the speech to the coalminers in New South Wales. He was reported in the Press—I saw it in many newspapers—to this effect: that the Government (the Australian Government) do not intend to nationalise undertakings other than public utilities, and only those if they are not doing their best under private control and could best serve the people if they were not so controlled. He went on to say that the Central Government had no legal power to nationalise the remaining mines in private industry but, even if they had, he would not dream of doing it. The reason he gave was that there was no evidence that nationalisation of privately-owned coal mines would improve the position. The miners themselves had proved that in the State-owned mines. Those are the facts, and the important thing is that we should draw the right deductions from them.
Steel, alone of the basic industries, is a shining example. Take its achievements, which now it will be the aim and instruction to denigrate as much as possible: but facts speak louder than fancies. The achievements of this industry in the war were tremendous. It put £50,000,000—I suppose that will be twice as much or more at to-day's prices—into modernisation and re-equipment, as soon as it had a chance to compete on equal terms with foreign countries. It raised production from something like 5,500,000 tons to 13,000,000 tons before the war. It has presented and is already carrying out plans for further development and re-equipment, plans with which the Government themselves, as the Lord President of the Council has said, cannot find fault at all. Why should the industry not carry on with those plans? Half of this great plan—£200,000,000 more of expenditure, when all is complete—the industry undertakes to finance from its own resources, from the reserves it has wisely created. It is fantastic to suppose that the other half could not be easily raised on the market. In production the industry is unique in the extent to which it has surpassed the high target which the Government set. They are not reducing the steel target—on the contrary, they are putting it up.
37 What about prices, in contrast to other basic industries? Steel prices have risen by only half the general increase in prices of other materials and manufactures—69 per cent. above 1938, as compared with a general rise of 136 to 137 per cent. Labour relations are a model. I am told that Sir Stafford Cripps says that they have worked so well because they are all looking forward happily to nationalisation, the pursuit of the Holy Grail. What nonsense that is! It is not as if labour relations had suddenly become good in anticipation of some manna which was to fall from the Government. Relations have been a model and working example for forty years Wages are good. How fortunate it is that this great basic industry serves its huge and varied clientele of other industries so well. Yet a great part of this efficient, prosperous and contented industry is now to be seized and reduced to the dead level of other nationalised industries. And the Parliament Bill is to be rushed through in order to prevent the electors expressing an opinion upon this action before it is done.
The steel industry does not stand alone in its achievements, though I think they are outstanding. What is remarkable, in contrast with nationalised industry, is how well the non-nationalised industries have done. All credit to the management, technicians, workers and salesmen. Small thanks to the Government, though they seek to take the credit. When we see the figures given in the Press month after month, of how this and that free enterprise—or relatively free enterprise—has expanded its output, the Government take the credit. But that industry has little to thank them for. It is the target for week-end attack; it is hampered and frustrated by the wrong kind of detailed control. Of course control and direction are necessary. We have never denied that. We have always insisted upon it. But we have also insisted that the Government methods are wrong, and that this attempt to run every detail in the infinitely varied industries by people who do not understand these details, instead of giving a broad direction and control, is quite impossible. Of course, "the slump"—I could not help overhearing a remark of the noble Viscount opposite—would not be there but for the methods 38 by which civil servants try to decide whether a pound of this or that is to be issued. What is the truth of the matter? The truth of the matter is that when the war ended nobody had been able to buy anything for seven years, and there was an enormous demand. The period when anybody would buy at any price is passing, and more and more we shall find that the seller becomes courtier and the buyer becomes king. Unless these methods are altered, we shall find it more and more difficult in the competitive markets.
May I now turn to the field of Commonwealth and Empire? We are all anxious to hear anything more that we can about the recent Commonwealth Conference. Neither the gracious Speech nor the communiqués—nor, indeed, the Prime Minister's speech yesterday—told us much. I am not going to press the Government to say more than is possible at this time. All of us who have been engaged in these Conferences appreciate that the Prime Ministers must consult their own Cabinets. However, without pressing for more than can be told now, I would like an assurance—and I am sure I shall get it—that so soon as the Government can, they will give us the results of the Conference, whether by a statement in this House, by a White Paper or by both. The meeting of leading Ministers was of itself, I am sure, of great value. The telephone and the telegraph can never be a substitute for talk and personal contact. But it is of great importance that contact between meetings should be as full as possible. I know that masses of telegrams pass between Commonwealth Governments, but I think that probably most of us who have had to deal with these matters feel that the machinery of contact in foreign affairs, in economics and in defence could be improved.
Let me make it plain beyond any doubt at all that I am not suggesting anything in the nature of a central Executive. That I believe to be quite impossible. The decisions that have to be taken are decisions by Governments. The more important a decision is, the more necessary it is that a Prime Minister should take that decision, in consultation with his Cabinet. But events move fast, and rapid decisions are necessary if they are to be 39 effective. It is essential that we should act together on the most important matters. But, quite naturally, Governments do not want to be rushed, particularly on incomplete information.
How is the essential matter of individual decisions by the equal partner Governments to be reconciled with quicker decision and more information? I am sure—and I feel certain that the Leader of the House will agree with this—that all Governments will be helped to take their decisions if there is the maximum pooling of knowledge and ideas by civil and military staffs working together and presenting to their respective Governments full information, agreed facts and a common appraisement of the different factors. Information should not—and I am sure does not—flow only from here. Information and intelligence should be a two-way or an all-way traffic, if the pooling is to be complete. I am sure that many of us have felt increasingly that this pooling of information, this common presentation of facts, would be helped if we could extend the practice of, if I may put it familiarly, "bedding-out" experienced officers and officials in each other's Ministries. In this way all Governments would be equally and simultaneously informed of the facts on which decisions have to be taken.
The recent Conference must have considered the development of Commonwealth relations. We would all wish to approach this matter without prejudice but with a sense of reality. The British Commonwealth and Empire has evolved on no sealed pattern. The bonds are very supple, and the more supple bonds have proved to be the strongest. They have proved to be the strongest because the unity of the Commonwealth has been the common will and the common weal. I do not think the development of the Commonwealth is any more likely to follow a sealed pattern in the future than it has followed one in the past. The essence has been, and surely must always be, in the reality of our union. If it were not a real union of spirit it would lose its value and its strength, both to its own members and to the world. The rules of the club can be elastic, but it must still be a club. It would be a profound misfortune if we were to find some formula which provided a façade but lost 40 the reality which is our abiding strength. Those are matters on which I believe nearly all of us would be in agreement and on which we should all wish to work together.
There are other events within the Empire which I must mention in this review and which are the particular responsibility of the Government, where the results are very disquieting. In Burma, contrary to our warning (it was their responsibility) His Majesty's Government enabled a Government to be installed which could not control a fraction of the country. Half the country has been handed over to the tender mercy of Communists, and in another large part friends who stood by us in the war feel themselves alienated, if not betrayed. Then there is Malaya. The Government had the whole picture of Indonesia and Indo-China before them, where the Communist pattern was plain for all to see. There the situation, which could have been controlled at the start, was allowed to drift, and landed us in a long and arduous campaign. That campaign will succeed, but I believe that much of it might have been avoided. On both those matters we warned the Government repeatedly, but our anxieties were discounted. If that were not enough, the Conference at Havana nearly fumbled away the structure of Imperial preference upon which the prosperity of the Commonwealth and, indeed so much of the co-operative recovery of the world depend. Fortunately it did not quite do so. I am very glad to see that there is no mention of Havana in the gracious Speech. I trust that means that it will not be brought before us for our consideration.
I must say this, and as one who has such friendly personal relations in all this I regret having to say it. The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, has not been very fortunate. He has been the contact man, appointed to keep in the closest touch in his journeys through the Empire, to ascertain first-hand knowledge and to be able to retail that first-hand knowledge to us. He has retailed a good deal. But there was the case of Hyderabad, where we were assured that every State would be perfectly free to choose whether it associated itself with one or other Dominion—or perhaps I should say Commonwealth country—in India, or to remain completely separate. That was 41 not very good contact. Then with regard to Burma and Malaya, he gave us the most optimistic forecasts and reports which certainly have not been justified by events. Immediately afterwards, the Guards had to go out. I am quite certain that the last thing in the world the noble Earl would wish to do would be to mislead the House, but he himself has been most lamentably misinformed.
I turn now for a moment to defence. Here, the conduct of the Government has been equally fumbling. Take demobilisation—too slow at the beginning and too fast when the storm clouds began to gather. Take National Service, where we thought the Government had a policy and, indeed, where they had a policy most carefully evolved by the Chiefs of Staff and approved by the Cabinet. What happened? That policy took months to evolve, but in twenty-four or forty-eight hours they had to heat an ignominious retreat from what they knew was right and from what they knew was necessary. I cannot resist the conclusion that there has been no over-all strategic objective, as it used to be called in the war. It was that over-all strategic objective which was the key to success in war. If there is not that there will not be, and there is not to-day—and I assert this—a real co-ordination of the three Services, securing the highest common factor. The Government have not that because they have no plan. If there is no plan, or no effective plan, in a situation where time is not on our side, and where time must be short, then if the danger should arise, there will not be co-ordination, and certainly we shall not receive value for our money.
Honest men like Sir Stafford Cripps are trying to tell the truth. He is telling us—and indeed it is true that we live by our industrial production, that we have to bridge the gap or starve. A bomb is more convincing and more obvious than a trade balance, but an adverse trade balance could do what neither bomb nor submarine ever did; and that is, starve us out. All honour to Sir Stafford Cripps for his realism, but it is hard to unteach the fallacies of years. I wonder whether your Lordships recollect a passage in a work of Lord Keynes, in which he described another attempt at reconversion. His words were that "It was harder to debamboozle the old Presbyterian than it had been to bamboozle him." I 42 am afraid that that is what Sir Stafford Cripps is finding. Frustrated and disillusioned supporters feel themselves misled, and he is frustrated by false prophets, like Mr. Bevan or Mr. Shinwell, who have no illusions.
I wonder whether the, First Lord of the Admiralty, who is to speak later, will be able to explain to us on what basis of principle or expediency the liability of Mr. Shin well becomes an asset? I mean an asset to the Government not to us—I quite understand the equation put that way. However, I will not ask the First Lord to defend Mr. Shinwell's disgraceful remark that because Mr. Churchill was a great war leader he wants another war. That I certainly will not ask him to defend, and neither would he.
That is the case, and that is the condemnation the Government have to meet. I hope that the Government spokesmen to-day, and the First Lord in particular, will not take what I think would, in his recent manœuvres, have been called evasive action—which is so popular with the Leader of the House—in going back and giving us an extremely irrelevant and inaccurate picture of what happened between the wars. If it were either relevant or profitable to swap these reminiscences, I myself could produce a few. I could remind them of the peak which unemployment reached under a Labour Government. I could remind them, when they talk about how defence was neglected, how, time after time, every Labour Member—or every Labour Member who was then in the House—either on the Front Bench here or in another place, voted against my Air Estimates. I could remind them how Sir Stafford Cripps—who afterwards was to do such great work in the war—went even further and went round saying to the workers in the factories—do not let me misquote—Refuse to make armaments. Refuse to use them. That is the only way to keep this country out of war.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
It is a quotation from the Daily Herald. Speaking at Eastleigh on March 14, 1937, Sir Stafford Cripps was reported in the Daily Herald as saying this:Money cannot make armaments. Armaments can only be made by the skill of the 43 British working class, and it is the working class who would be called upon to use them. To-day you have the most glorious opportunity that the workers have ever had if you will only use the necessity of capitalism in order to get power yourselves. The capitalists are in your hands. Refuse to make armaments. Refuse to use them. That is the only way you can keep this country out of war and obtain power for the working class. Refuse to make armaments, and the capitalists are powerless.I was at pains on another occasion, for another purpose, to verify the quotation and I do not think Sir Stafford Cripps has ever denied that it was an accurate report.
I do not think these comparisons are relevant, but because it seems to be the stock-in-trade answer to use them I am at least entitled in advance to show that we can at least give as good as we get if that particular form of competition is to be undertaken. But I will give a much fairer standard of comparison. It is this. If a real comparison is sought between the present and the past, surely it is the disunity of the present Government as compared with the unity of the National Government and the unity of the war effort in the great years of the war. That unity we were only too anxious to continue, but the Government, or the Party which direct the Government, insisted on breaking it up.
On all this, where do the Liberal Party stand? Surely all that I have attacked, of action or of inaction by the Government, is equally repugnant to them and alien to their tradition. It is an unhappy record; and if our past proclaims our future the outlook is pretty grim. Yet surely the way out is plain. We are all in this together and, as the gracious Speech recognises, it is only by working together that we can emerge. The Government have tried their experiments. I am sure that many in the Government believed in them. I have never opposed nationalisation on a theoretical or ideological basis. I am not much concerned—perhaps because I am not intellectual enough—with theories. I have been opposed to nationalisation because it is contrary to all that I have found to work in practice, in production, in industry, in commerce and—most important of all—in human nature. I know that the Post Office is always brought up on these occasions. But one does not want competing post offices—and I am not sure that deliveries are always so very efficient.
44 I believe that a great many people wanted these experiments tried out; and if we did not carry them any further it might be a good thing that they should have been tried out—though not perhaps on the scale that they have. But we are a very practical people. In the name of common sense and of national security and survival, let us apply the result of the experiments and call a halt. Even if other experiments in other nationalised industries had succeeded, where in fact they have failed, steel would still be a hazardous experiment and a frightful gamble at this time. The gracious Speech emphasises that we must make the fullest use of our existing resources, that only by our continued exertions and self-restraint shall we win through. Let the Government apply their own maxim and exercise self-restraint, and they may count on the continued exertions of a united nation. They will evoke again the diversity and the unity of the war effort. And in that unity and diversity they will open for us all a way of life in tune with men's deepest instincts, and the only way by which we can together realise our highest hopes.
§ 3.44 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
My Lords, the debate so far has proceeded in a friendly spirit, as is usual in a debate in your Lordships' House on the Motion for an Address of Thanks to the Throne. It seemed, a short while ago, that there was perhaps material for a little "breeze"; but this friendly spirit has prevailed in spite of the fact that, immediately before the debate began, there was what I thought might be regarded as an ominous gesture on the part of the Government—notice was given of a Bill for the destruction of rats and mice. Apparently we are to have in this Session not only the Parliament Bill but also, no doubt at the behest of the Minister of Health, a Bill for the destruction of vermin and pests!
Let me in the first place take the opportunity, which did not arise yesterday, of expressing on behalf of my noble friends on these Benches our congratulations to the mover and seconder of the Motion now before the House. The noble Lord, Lord Amwell, spoke with an originality of thought and a freshness of humour which are not always to be found on these ceremonial occasions. The noble Lord, Lord Douglas, spoke with wide and solid experience, and made some definite and 45 potent observations from his own knowledge of affairs in Germany. I have had the opportunity of being present, in one House or the other, on more than thirty such occasions; and I can say, as a result of long comparison, that the speeches this year were certainly well above the standard—usually high though not always so—which has prevailed in both Houses of Parliament in the moving and seconding of an Address to the Throne.
Perhaps your Lordships will allow me to say also that we welcome the revival of the ancient ceremonial, after its ten years of suspension. It is right that we should maintain the dignity and prestige, and thereby the authority and the stability, of the State. It is not a mere coincidence that the best-governed countries in Europe, and, on the whole the most happy and prosperous (in addition to Switzerland, whose position is exceptional) are those in the North-West of the Continent—Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Belgium, Holland and this country, the United Kingdom, which enjoy the benefits of a constitutional monarchy; and our Dominions, which may be said to have reached the same standard of government, share that system. Here in this country we are very fortunate that the experience, tradition and reverence, which have been slowly accumulating for a thousand years, still survive, and we do right to cherish them. It is right that our constitutional occasions should not be casual or mean, but should be ceremonious and noble. An old Member of the House of Commons of a previous generation, Sir Albert Spicer, once told me that Mr. Gladstone had said to him in the course of a conversation, "I hate luxury, but I love splendour." That, surely, is right. Simplicity may be appropriate in private life, but let the State be stately; and since from the Middle Ages the Second Chamber has been the scene of colourful and dignified ceremonial, let us maintain that ceremonial still as an adjunct and a background to the pageantry of the Crown.
I feel it right to say that we should all regard it as a credit to the Government—a Socialist Government—that they have realised the value and importance of these things, and have not hesitated, although they may be criticised by some sections of their supporters, to restore that pageantry. These traditions do no one any harm; they do no prejudice to 46 the liberties and interests of the people; and I hope that they may be carried forward into the new age. I trust that it will not be long before the constitution of your Lordships' House is reformed; I regard it as essential to the safety of the State that that should be done. When it is done, I hope that the new House will continue to maintain these old customs.
We are departing to-day from the usual practice in your Lordships' House on these occasions. To-day we have had a lengthy speech, not from the Leader of the Opposition but from one of his colleagues. I can understand that the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, who made a very comprehensive and interesting review of the whole situation at the opening of the recent brief Session of Parliament, would not desire to repeat that after so short an interval; but the present situation is a somewhat awkward one. I should like to know what is proposed to be the practice in the future. I was recently informed that the Leader of the House and the Leader of the Opposition had thought it desirable that on the first day of the Session there should be no general speeches but merely formal, or little more than formal, speeches dealing with the virtues of the proposer and seconder; and to the second day should be left any substantial contributions to the general discussion of public affairs. If that procedure is intended to be continued in future years, is it proposed that the Leader of the House, the Leader of the Official Opposition and the Leader of the Liberal Party should all say nothing at the opening of the Session except just formal observations on the first day, and should leave to some other members of their Parties speeches such as that to which we have just had the pleasure of listening from the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton; or is it proposed that some other representatives of the Parties should speak on the first day e and that some delegates of the leaders should pay tributes to the mover and seconder? I do not think that either of those courses is a very desirable one to adopt.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
My Lords, may I be allowed to interrupt the noble Viscount for a moment? The noble Viscount will do what he wishes in his own Party, but whoever speaks from this Front Bench, by arrangement with the 47 Leader of our Party and at his request, speaks on behalf of a united Party.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
The point is this: that on the first day, on which we have an occasion of State, we have been accustomed to hear speeches from the Leaders of the Parties. We are now told that that is not to be so. I asked whether the intention is that on the first day some other persons should speak on behalf of the Leaders, and, if that were done, whether it would really be quite suitable to the occasion. Or is it the intention that the Leaders should speak briefly on the first day, and on the second day other persons should make the speeches of substance? I do not think that that course either is desirable. Possibly the best course would be for the three Leaders to speak formally on the first day and then, by leave of the House, make their speeches of substance on the second day.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
My Lords, it might perhaps be appropriate if I were to interrupt the noble Viscount for a moment. So far as I am concerned, the various questions which he has mentioned are at this moment entirely conjectural. I am quite sure that we should all be glad to get the feeling of the House and of its Leaders as to what is the most advantageous and suitable arrangement. I hope that we shall continue to try to do that.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
I was offering these observations only in order to make the suggestion that, before the next Session of Parliament, there should be conversations upon this matter through the usual channels, so that the best possible procedure should be adopted, and that what happened yesterday and to-day should not necessarily be taken as an established precedent to be followed always in the future.
To come to the substance of the matter before us, I welcome the emphasis laid in the gracious Speech, and also in the communiqué issued after the Commonwealth Conference, on the promotion of 48 Western European Union. We on these Benches attach great importance to that matter and welcome the steps that are being taken to advance it. It is evident that the pattern of world organisation is becoming, and must necessarily become, more and more complicated. This country will become a member, and a most important member, of various (so to speak) collateral organisations. The Foreign Secretary will have to take part in the deliberations of the five Powers who are joined together by the Treaty of Brussels largely for matters of defence. He will also speak for this country as a part of the Western European Union which contains other Powers as well. Further, there is likely to be an Atlantic Union. All of these duties will have to be co-ordinated and on all these occasions the Foreign Secretary will have to remember also his duties to the British Commonwealth.
The position of the British Commonwealth as a wholé in all these organisations must be safeguarded. It is well recognised that, whatever happens in the way of Western European Union or any other form of organic combination in Europe, the unity of the whole of the British Commonwealth must not be in any degree impaired, and that we should never find ourselves asked, as a member of one of these European organisations, to pursue a course which it was not agreeable to other members of the Commonwealth that we should take. Furthermore, beyond all these, there is of course the United Nations. I welcome particularly this sentence in the statement issued after the Commonwealth Conference. Speaking of the Conference's approach to present world problems, the statement says:Fundamentally, this approach is based upon their support of the objectives of the United Nations as an instrument for world peace and their determination to make its work fully effective.It is of immense importance that, in spite of difficulties and dangers, we should not lose faith in the United Nations, or in any degree relax our efforts to make it a success. There is no reason why we should consent to surrender to Russian obstruction or, in spite of all opposition and difficulties, despair that the United Nations may not yet be made a success in dealing with the great matters entrusted to its charge.
49 After the Second World War, we Liberals, like many members of other Parties, felt very sympathetic towards Russia and her efforts to secure the social uplifting of her people. We thought that, disagree as we might with several of the main features of the Marxist creed, in view of their humanitarian aim the Russian people had the right to try that creed out and to make it a success if they could, free from all interference from other quarters. But recent events, and particularly the revolution brought about in Czechoslovakia, came as a great shock to the progressive opinion of the whole world. As was the case when Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia, so the hand laid upon that country by Russia has been a revelation, and has been regarded everywhere as a danger signal. But now that this is being accompanied by almost overt actions in the promotion of unrest, riots and upheaval in France, lately in Italy, in the Balkans, in Malaya and over a large part of the East, the situation becomes extremely grave.
We cannot be influenced by the specious arguments that are advanced on behalf of this campaign. There is a saying by Emerson which will be well remembered by many of your Lordships; it is to this effect:What you do speaks so loud that I cannot hear what you say.However, we do not advocate, as some voices have advocated lately, that matters should be deliberately brought to a head and pushed to a climax. That would probably make the situation far worse than it is. I find myself in cordial agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Douglas, who seconded the Motion yesterday. He spoke as having recently been Commander-in-Chief and Military Governor in the British Zone of Germany, and deprecated strongly the issue of what would amount to an ultimatum to the Soviets, an ultimatum which he felt certain would be rejected and which could only greatly worsen the situation and increase the dangers to world peace.
My Lords, I dare say that we could find, if we wished to do so, points for criticism in the conduct of international affairs by His Majesty's present Government, but I do not wish to look for points of criticism. I think the nation, as a whole, wishes the Government to know that they can speak in these matters for 50 a united nation. They have to conduct most difficult negotiations in the presence of great perils, and I think it should be the duty of all of us to uphold their hands, rather than to find grounds for criticism. Never should we speak in any quarter of an inevitable war; nor should we ever speak of waging a preventive war on our own initiative. That would be the most abominable policy of all. But since there is risk—and the risks of the situation are plain—we must look to our defences. There the Government are taking certain measures, which appear to many to be inadequate, though well intentioned. That matter, however, is to be debated to-morrow, and there may be some criticisms from these Benches on that occasion as to the measures taken by the Government for the strengthening of our defences.
The gracious Speech refers to the economic situation and the balance of payments. I could wish it were possible to say something about prices. I wish it were possible to give some hope that there would be a decline in prices, or that the Government by some means—they are doing their best to increase production—could stimulate a decline in prices. There the present heavy burden of taxation comes in, for I am certain that these enormous taxes tend to raise prices and to encourage producers to sell for the highest possible sums that they can obtain in order to pay the taxes which they are called upon to bear. As a patient in hospital has his temperature chart over his bed, and those who go by can see how he is getting on, so the chart of world prices and local prices is a sign, as it goes up or down, of the health of the nation. If only we could have a fall in the existing cost of living, it would relieve immensely the whole situation, not only economically but politically, and not only in this country but throughout the world.
As to the legislative programme of the year, the Parliament Bill will in due course come back to us again. The massive procedure of the Constitution goes on. Once set rolling, like O1' Man River it goes rolling along; so, in due course, we shall have the Bill back again once more, with the same debates as hitherto and, no doubt, with the same result. I am glad to see very high priority given in the list to a nearly non- 51 controversial measure, that for the establishment of national parks, which I am sure will prove to be of great advantage to the nation as a whole, and an important measure of social progress. I do not know what form the Bill will take, but it may prove unexpectedly to be a matter of controversy in some regards, and those who are friends of the national park movement feel some anxiety as to the provisions it may contain for the machinery of establishing, maintaining and managing these national parks. I am sure that no member of this House is more glad than the noble Viscount its Leader that this measure should come forward for fruition. It is some thirty years ago, I think, that he was Chairman of a Government Committee on this subject, which made the first recommendations for the establishment of national parks.
There are other useful measures of a social character included in the gracious Speech. May I say here, not as a question arising this year but with an eye to the future, that I hope the Government will give speedy attention to the Report of my noble friend, Lord Beveridge, recently issued on Voluntary Agencies? That is an extremely important document. Once again, my noble friend sets the target for social action and I trust that the Government will give his proposals their careful consideration, with a view to introducing legislation at an early date on such matters as require the intervention of the State. We shall hope on these Benches to raise a discussion on this subject on some suitable occasion in the near future.
Lastly, we have the one controversial measure of the year, that for the public control of the steel industry. I do not think this is an occasion on which we should express in any detail our views on this particular Bill—or, indeed, generally. We as a Second Chamber have the duty of considering these measures when they come before us, and in the form in which they emerge from the House of Commons, and I think it would be premature to make any declaration on that subject to-day. Indeed, that was said earlier by the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition. He told your Lordships: 52What this House will do with the Iron and Steel Bill when it comes before us, I do not know. That must depend upon the nature of the Bill. We have always said that we would consider every Bill objectively.The burden of proof as to the necessity for this Bill rests quite clearly upon the Government. So far they have advanced hardly any proof of its necessity. We must await the development of their case before we come to a definite and final conclusion.
I should like to end my speech with some sentences that would command the general agreement of all quarters of the House, for in a debate of this character, on a Motion for an Address to the Crown, it is usual that the House should emphasise its unity so far as it can. It is difficult for me, however, to find any topic on which one could perorate and which will be received with unanimous approval. I gathered from the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, that if I gave any praise to the Government for the general conduct of affairs he would not find himself enthusiastically in agreement; and similarly with regard to the programme of legislation for the year. So I am limited to concluding by expressing the thanks of the whole House to the Government for having advised His Majesty to restore the ancient ceremonial, and to say that in all quarters of the House we congratulate the mover and seconder of the Address, who acted as spokesmen for the House, on the manner in which they have acquitted themselves in their honourable task.
§ 4.10 p.m.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY (VISCOUNT HALL)
My Lords, my first remarks would be to the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, for the very helpful and constructive speech to which we have just listened. I would like to assure him and the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, that my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor will deal in his winding-up speech with the points which were raised in relation to the Commonwealth Conference. I think it would be better if I devoted the main part of my speech to the points which were raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, when he opened the debate this afternoon. He is not an innocent, not a newcomer to politics, but a very old politician who knows his politics well. He is well acquainted with 53 political strategy and the use to which he can put it. I must say that, coming as it did from him, it was rather surprising that he should take the record of His Majesty's Government for the last three years and hold it up to what, in his mind, might no doubt be regarded, to some extent, as ridicule.
The noble Viscount himself has been a Minister of the Crown for, I should think, well over twenty years, and when it comes to making comparisons with any period at all he really should know that there is no Government and Party in modern times who stand upon ground so weak as the Governments and the Party—that is, the Conservative Governments and the Conservative Party—who were responsible for the conduct of the nation's affairs in the period between the two wars. I do not wish to traverse ground which I went over on a previous occasion, but I would ask any fair-minded person, not only in any part of your Lordships' House but in the country, who had to live through the period after the First World War (that is, in the years from 1918 right up to 1939) whether he can honestly say that he feels proud of the Administrations which were responsible for the conditions which drove the people of this country into beggary, poverty and destitution. It is so easy to judge standards if you judge them from the angle of your own condition and situation, but those of us who have suffered as the result not of one generation but of generations of Tory government in this country can understand why the people used the power which they possess to put a Socialist Government into office in 1945.
I well remember reading some lines of poetry written by an old Irish patriot. I do not say that they are quite applicable to-day, but they are the kind of thing which sticks in one's mind. The words of a passage in that poetry were these:Partisan, Aristocrat, Tory—Whatever his age or his nameTo the people's rights and libertiesA traitor for ever the same.The national crowd was a mob to him,Their prayer a vulgar rhyme.The people's cry was sedition,And the patriot's deed a crime.Whatever the place, the law of the land,Whatever the time or throne,The Tory was always a traitorTo every class but his own.54 That is the atmosphere, in which so many people in this country were not only born but lived for a number of years, and that is why there has been in the minds of the people of this country a complete revolution towards politics. The noble Viscount need not say that Socialism is not the cure for Communism. No one has ever argued that it is. But the capitalism which he, and indeed the Conservative Party as a whole, has supported, is just a breeding nest of Communism. Had it not been for the trade union movement in this country, and for the work of the old pioneers of the Socialist Party, the possibilities are that the situation in this country now would be entirely different from what it is at the present time. We have nothing to be ashamed of in the record of the Socialist Government for the last three years. The noble Viscount mentioned that he does not believe in nationalisation. Of course, he does not. What the noble Viscount believes in is subsidies and subsidisation, so that concerns, because possibly they could not increase prices, could come to the State for subsidy. Like the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, I am not going to deal fully to-day with the question of steel. We must see what the Bill contains. I understand that the Bill has received its First Reading to-day and that it will be published on Friday, so that we shall then be able to learn its contents. So far as I am aware, the Steel Bill is the last measure of nationalisation for which the present Government have a mandate. The noble Viscount need not doubt that we all want steel sold at as low a price as possible. But what he himself forgets is that even during the last financial year the steel industry has still been benefiting as a result of a very heavy subsidy from the State.
§ VISCOUNT HALL
Whatever difference it makes, it does amount to this, that the industry is receiving a subsidy. Is there a single industry which has been nationalised that could have modernised itself and brought itself up to the standard which the nation requires of it unless it applied to the State for a subsidy? Take the mining industry. The Reid Report said that it was absolutely essential to 55 find £150,000,000 before the mining industry in this country could be modernised. So far as electricity is concerned, I suggest that electricity was more than half nationalised before the State nationalised it. The municipalities themselves controlled about 55 per cent. of the electricity industry of this country. Is there anyone who could say that the gas industry could have modernised itself? Possibly some of the gas concerns could do it—
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
The noble Viscount has used the term "subsidy." That is usually interpreted to mean grants of money to cover a loss. But he is now referring to the question of raising capital. That is not the same thing.
§ VISCOUNT HALL
I am referring to subsidies. Civil aviation, for which the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, was responsible in 1937, received, not loans but direct subsidies from the State, and I think that is what is being paid to the steel industry at the present time.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
The noble Viscount has directly challenged me on this question. First of all in regard to civil aviation: under my plan, two of the three undertakings were prepared to find the capital and to carry on without any subsidy at all. What happened with steel was this. The Government have done two acts which are in the nature of giving a subsidy. The first is that scrap bought expensively in Germany is sold by the Government at the price of English scrap. The other is that the Government carry part of the freight charges—I think it is anything over 100 per cent. But the noble Viscount may take it from me, because I have had this very carefully calculated, that if both those subsidies were abolished, the difference would be only 5 per cent. of the cost—namely, an increase in price over pre-war from 69 to 74 per cent.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
May I again interrupt the noble Viscount who is making a very important statement on behalf of the Government? I understood him to say that it was impossible for British industry in general to equip and modernise itself unless it was subsidised by the taxpayer.
§ VISCOUNT HALL
I said nothing of the kind. I referred to the nationalised 56 industries. It is evident now that the electricity industry can do something for itself. It has just raised a large loan for development. The noble Viscount himself said that of the £200,000,000 which is required for the modernisation of steel, £100,000,000 would come from the industry and the possibilities were that it could raise the rest. Who knows? It is not unknown that the steel industry has been subsidised. Indeed, every industry which is necessary to the well-being of the country, when it cannot make its way, has come to the State, and the State has to subsidise it.
We have nothing to be ashamed of. Six of the basic industries have been nationalised, and during the course of the last three years the social conditions of the people have not been neglected. This social legislation has been carried out by the Government, notwithstanding all the difficulties of demobilisation. The noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, could not have been present when I informed the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, about the speed with which demobilisation took place within the first year after the cessation of hostilities, when something like 2,750,000—I do not want to be tied to the figure—were demobilised from the Forces. As he knows, the question of the period of service under the National Service Act is still under consideration. As there is a debate on certain aspects of defence tomorrow, the possibilities are that my noble friend Lord Pakenham will deal with that matter.
Not every member of the Conservative Party shares the views of the noble Viscount. It is interesting to know that Mr. Boothby, a Member of the House of Commons of many years' standing, in a speech which he delivered at Oxford in November, 1947, said:I am very, very thankful that we have not got a Conservative Government now for there can be no doubt that, bad as things are, they would be a good deal worse under a Conservative Government if one were in power at the moment.There might be strikes, there might be lockouts and all sorts of things which would lead to a considerable amount of distress. And I note that Mr. Harold Macmillan, speaking last year, said, as quoted in the Press:I do not think that any fair-minded man or woman can deny that any Government taking office after six years of war had a difficult task indeed. They could not twice in 57 a single generation inflict such hardship and gaping wounds on Europe—twice in twenty-five years destroy half the world—and then expect in two short years to restore prosperity and security.I did not catch what the noble Viscount said.
§ VISCOUNT HALL
That is what I am coming to, if the noble and learned Viscount will be patient. We are facing the future by dealing with the question of unemployment, about which the noble and learned Viscount knows something, not by actually suffering unemployment but because he was in Parliament at the time. At the present time the estimated total working population of this country is 20,290,000. Of these, 19,126,000 are in civil employment, as compared with 18,000,000 in the middle of 1939. At mid-September last, the total number of workers registered as unemployed was 294,000, of whom 70,000 were women. This represents just 1½ per cent. of the total working population. In the middle of 1939 the total of unemployed was 1,270,000. And in 1932–33 (not 1931) the unemployed numbered nearly 3,000,000. During more than twenty years of Tory administration the number of unemployed averaged about 1,500,000. This was equal to a lowering of the standard of living of about 10 per cent., a loss of £300,000,000 in capital investment every year and about 35,000,000 man-years of poverty, misery and degradation. I will not press that point, and I will turn to the earnings of those who are employed. The average wages of men were almost doubled from October, 1938, to October, 1947. The actual figures show an increase from £3 9s. to £6 8s. a week, in the average wages of men over twenty-one. The wages of women have gone up from £1 12s. 6d. to £3 9s. These are total earnings before the deduction of insurance contributions and income tax, and include bonuses and other war-time payments.
A good deal has been said about trade. I hope that noble Lords will not minimise the strenuous efforts which the 58 Chancellor of the Exchequer and his follow Ministers and the people of this country are making to bring about a restoration in the trade position of this country. I know that the Government have been severely criticised by Conservatives, who have stated that the Government want austerity for austerity's sake. To-day, conditions have proved that had the Government surrendered to the criticism of the Tories, the country would now be in the throes of mass unemployment and spreading poverty. Instead, the standard of living has been maintained, production is going up, and new export markets are being developed. It has been a tough fight, but the results have proved that it has been worth it. In July, 1945, at the cessation of hostilities, we were exporting only 46 per cent. of the 1938 exports. By the last quarter of 1946 that had already risen to 112 per cent.: for the third quarter of this year it has gone up to 138 per cent., and it is hoped that by the end of the year the exports will reach 150 per cent.
§ VISCOUNT HALL
Yes, volume. With such results, it is not surprising that on August 13 last Monsieur Reynaud, the French Minister of Finance, speaking before the Council of the Republic, said: "While our"—that is France's—"exports are barely one-tenth of our imports and are wholly used for the repayment of loans, Great Britain may boast a magnificent achievement in her export trade." This was later followed by information which was given to the Americans by the United States' Department of Labour, who stated that, not only had the economic position of the British wage earner been substantially improved since the end of the war, but also that he was now a great deal better off than before the war. The following quotation may also be made from a report published by the United States' Labour Department's Monthly Review:The virtual disappearance of unemployment, more equitable distribution of supplies, thorough rationing and price control and subsidised housing during and after the war, have raised the economic position of the wage earner above that of the mid-1930's. In spite of the meagre and monotonous diet, overcrowded houses, long hours of work during the war and the general strain of life under war conditions, all medical indices point to better health than during the pre-war years for the population as a whole.59 These are two tributes from foreign nations who have watched the great progress which has been made in relation to trade and industry in this country; and it can be said that under all of these conditions the great majority of the work people in this country are making their contribution to right the trade balance. It is as a result almost entirely of their contribution that the situation is what it is at the present time.
In addition to the struggle to establish economic stability, the Government's legislative programme during the last three years has been a very heavy one. May I here follow up the remark of the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, in relation to the recent Report of Lord Beveridge on voluntary work. I certainly agree that the Report is well worth examining. It deals with a very vital point. Apart from nationalization, to which I have referred, the social insurance schemes are well under way, and benefits are beginning to be realised by the people. The same thing may be said of the Health Service, for already there is abundant evidence that it is working smoothly. The many prophecies of the breakdown of the scheme have proved to be wrong, for over 90 per cent. of the population have chosen doctors, and doctors have agreed to accept them.
I do not know when the Conservatives are going to learn that the art of good government is anticipation. I was interested to read a statement of the noble Viscount, Lord Kemsley, in the Sunday Times a few weeks ago. He there said:Looking back to previous generations from the higher level of life now established, it is natural to ask why reforms were delayed. The reply, of course, is that they are timed by public opinion. Legislation has often lagged but has rarely been ahead of demand.These words cannot apply to the present Government, for they have, with great courage, brought about these great changes. It may well apply to the Party opposite, because I remember a speech made by a very prominent parliamentarian who in another place, in criticising the then Government, of which the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, was a member (he may remember the words) said:So they go on in strange paradox, decided only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity, all powerful to be impotent.'60 It was very ant that these words should have been used at that time.
I am not going to take up any more of your Lordships' time. The noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, in his opening remarks said that the test is: What have the Government done? I would like to ask him: Who is to decide—the Conservative Party, or the people of this country? The real test is that from the date of the General Election until the present time the Government have lost only one seat, and that through a very badly split vote. Indeed, the Conservatives can derive very little consolation from the feeling in the country. With the results of the legislation already carried through, in addition, of course, to the legislation promised in the gracious Speech—namely the completion of the schemes of nationalisation and further progress in social reform—I have no doubt who will have the right to govern this country after the next Election.
§ 4.38 p.m.
§ LORD ELTON
My Lords, we have been listening for some little while, and I am sure with all due respect, to the official views of the official spokesmen of the Parties. Myself not being an official spokesman, or even a member of an official Party, I must detain your Lordships for only a very few minutes. Therefore, tempting though it would be for one who was once a professional historian to take his part in the exchange of historical generalisations across the floor of the House, I think I must confine myself to asking your Lordships' attention to two, as it seems to me, extremely grave matters which have so far not engaged your attention. Some of your Lordships may have noticed a week or two ago a desultory correspondence in the columns of The Times as to the desirability or otherwise, at this time of obviously urgent crisis, of the formation of a National Government. I am well aware that that is a topic which is not apt to commend itself readily to your Lordships, to members of another place, or, indeed, to that hundred thousand or so of convinced partisans and fervent adherents of one or other political Party who are the powerhouse of day-to-day politics, although I am fairly sure that a plea of that kind does find a very ready response among that vast unvocal majority which is so 61 regularly ignored by politicians in between the General Elections.
Now the Labour Member who initiated the correspondence—and I notice in my morning newspaper that he is no longer a Labour Member—argued, in effect, that the most urgent interest of this country, of Christendom and, indeed, of the world, being the preservation of peace, it behoved us to drop our relatively unimportant, minor differences and concentrate upon that paramount and baffling task. It has always seemed to me that the case both for and against National Government is never presented in its most effective guise. Certainly it did not appear to me that the argument of this gentleman, or of any of those who supported him in the columns of The Times, really put the case either for or against some sort of national co-operation at its most effective. It seems doubtful whether anything said or not said in the Mother of Parliaments is likely to make much impression on the grim realists in the Kremlin, all of whose sacred writings, from those of Lenin to those of Stalin himself, have unanimously reiterated that there can be no permanent accommodation between Communist Russia and the non-Communist West. Nor, I am afraid despite the familiar arguments, is any gesture towards unity in British Parliamentary life likely to produce a deep or lasting impression on our potential Allies in the West, who are usually just about as much mystified by British politics as they are by British cricket.
The case against National Government also seems to me to be founded upon a deep vein of unreality. It is usually argued that it is indispensable to the healthy functioning of the Parliamentary machine that there should be two sharply contrasted, clear cut, incompatible political creeds, free to clash across the floor of the House. Well, I am not a member of any Party; I am a mere Independent in politics, and it may be, therefore, that I am prejudiced or mistaken. Or, on the other hand, it may be that the onlooker sees more of the game. But I must confess—and I hope that I shall not shock members on either side of the House too profoundly—that what strikes me about the contemporary political scene is not the width of the gulf between the Parties, but their extraordinary similarity. Despite some 62 almost heated exchanges which have taken place in the course of this debate, I have found myself constantly reflecting: What, after all, would the man in the street say is the most salient characteristic of the policy of His Majesty's present Administration? Surely a rapid process of nationalisation, by way of the public corporation. But the public corporation was a familiar feature in the social and economic landscape for years before the present Administration took office. When His Majesty's present Government was still only a golden dream—or, if you like, a grim nightmare—of the future; when the odds against our ever having to see Mr. Shin-well as Minister of War were still incalculable, even then our old friend, the London Passenger Transport Board, our even older friend, the British Broadcasting Corporation, not to speak of the Port of London Authority and numerous other varieties of corporation, had already been planned—although the word "planning" was not so well-worn in their day—by Conservative and Liberal statesmen.
There are, of course, differences in pace and emphasis, in tone and temper, between this Government and any which might conceivably replace it. There are undoubtedly considerable contrasts in the relation of this Government to the world of labour, but, as one outside all the Parties, I must say that it would seem to me that all of them, willingly or unwillingly, are being borne by the intellectual currents of our time—the collectivist fashions which have reigned since at least 1890—towards the State as Leviathan and, maybe, beyond that towards the State as Frankenstein.
§ LORD ELTON
I beg your pardon—the monster known to Frankenstein. Not merely, that is, towards what we see in the immediate future, the State in which the individual is a mere cog, but towards that which looms behind it, the State which may yet devour its own creators.
It seems to me, therefore, that neither case is normally presented at its full value. The true case for some sort of national co-operation is, surely, that sooner or later—and more probably sooner than later—the Government will find itself anxious to follow some course from which 63 it may well and rightly shrink so long as the consequent odium is likely to fall upon it and it alone. After all, the National Government of 1931 was formed because, rightly or wrongly—and whether rightly or wrongly is not relevant to my case—it was felt that the Labour Government alone would not face the responsibility and the odium of the proposed cuts in Unemployment Insurance. Surely it may well be that very soon, if not already, the Government may feel that its Defence Programme—I am taking only one example—may demand the cessation of the expansion of the social services, and possibly even some reduction in them. It may well be that the Government will find itself, if it faces difficulties realistically, compelled to consider, not "Guns before butter," but at least "Guns before orange juice and free spectacles." And when that time comes, it may prove very much easier for Ministers to take the steps which they themselves judge to be necessary, not by way of conflict but by way of co-operation. I most earnestly ask—and I am sure that I am speaking on behalf of many who cannot or do not speak for themselves—that if and when that situation arises, His Majesty's Government should most seriously consider the possibility of some form of national co-operation.
There is one other matter—and a closely kindred matter—to which I wish to draw your Lordships' attention. I suppose that, as long ago as last July, by every standard which would have been familiar to any Foreign Secretary of the past, it must have appeared as more than possible that we were within a few days of the outbreak of a Third World War. Already last July one was meeting well-informed persons in and about Whitehall who were seriously debating whether it would be prudent to take during August the holiday on the Continent which they had planned. Meanwhile the man in the street, in his millions, was going about his business, to all appearances entirely undisturbed, and phlegmatically resolved to assume that there was no serious risk of a final outbreak. Well, here we are at the end of October, and precisely the same is still true. Judged by any standard or symptom familiar to Palmerston or Edward Grey, I suppose that one would have to conclude that we may well be within a week or two of the Third 64 World War; and still the common man clearly assumes that nothing of the sort is going to happen.
Perhaps the shrewdest comment on the whole situation comes from that shrewdest of elder statesmen, General Smuts, who remarked not long ago that maybe after all the day of the shooting war is virtually over; that henceforth, perhaps, the open war of bombs and guns will be only the brief eventual climax of a long preliminary process of infiltration, sabotage and fifth column work—in short, of what the Americans call the "cold war." Now if that, or anything remotely like that, is true, if we have to look forward to months or maybe years of cold war, I most earnestly suggest that the Government should accommodate their policy to the profound truth that although we are not at war we are most certainly not at peace.
After all, there are certain licences very rightly permitted in a democracy in peace time and very properly forbidden in war time. Now we are not at peace and not at war; we are living in a hybrid intermediate state, and some of those liberties must be near the border-line. It is for the Government to decide on which side they fall. If I may give an example, it is widely believed in Malaya that some considerable while ago the police authorities submitted a list of 100 names for banishment—and banishment in Malaya, of course, merely means sending back a foreign gunman to his country of origin. It is asserted there that of these 100 only two in fact were banished. Such leniency may be proper in peace time but not in war time; and it was surely not proper to the period of the cold war either. I believe that the leniency emanated from the Colonial Office; and it is undoubtedly thanks to that leniency—so welcome in peace time but so dangerous in the hybrid conditions in which we now live—that we have to face such an expenditure of blood and treasure as is being asked of us in Malaya at the present time.
And so it is with home affairs. Of course, standards are different here and it is for the Government to say whether any of the traditional liberties proper to peace time are being exploited improperly by the enemies of the State. Yet it is worth remembering, after all, that in every great factory, in every university and at the head of some of the great 65 unions are men and women devoted primarily to the interests of a foreign State and presumably prepared in some way or another to play the rôle of quisling, if required. I most earnestly suggest to His Majesty's advisers that they should consider the activities of some of these people, whose object seems to be to sabotage the Government's industrial policy. Without being unduly severe, they should at least once again remember that although we are not at war we are most certainly not at peace.
Finally, if for any reason they should find that some course which appears to them necessary but distasteful has to be embarked upon, it may well prove easier by way of co-operation rather than conflict. In that event, I hope that they will take their courage in both hands and no longer reject a national alliance. And I hope that in the meantime the leaders of all Parties will conduct the inevitable Party conflict with as little heat as possible.
§ 4.55 p.m.
§ LORD TWEEDSMUIR
My Lords, I listened with the greatest interest to the challenging speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, expounding the contents of the gracious Speech. I considered it against the context of something I read this morning in that sprightly journal, the Daily Worker. The Daily Worker said:It was not for such a King's Speech that the people voted in 1945.As usual, they hit the nail on the head; and, as usual, it was the wrong nail.
The noble Viscount, Lord Hall, may relax, because I am not going to address myself to his challenging observations. I propose to make a few remarks, which will not take up many minutes of your Lordships' time, on the recent Conference of the Commonwealth Prime Ministers. I echo what the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, has said: What a pity that the public—and except for a few of His Majesty's Ministers, noble Lords in this House know no more than the general public—know so little of what happened at that Conference. We realise that there were debates and agreements which could not be made public, because there are difficulties connected with security, and because many matters await ratification by the Dominions' peoples through their own Parliaments. I hope that as time 66 goes on, when these matters are agreed or come off the security list, we may be allowed to know what was discussed by those nine men, who are responsible for one-third of the earth, and what conclusions they came to.
But there are two things that give me great satisfaction and will give great satisfaction to many noble Lords. The first was the endorsement in general terms of what is known as Western Union. If the flag of democracy is to continue to fly, all those who believe in it must rejoice that this plan should have received such a very ready understanding on the part of the other Dominions. There can be unity among nations only if there is pressure without, and fundamental understanding within. The cold war provides that pressure from without, and respect for the rights and dignity of human personality provide the belief within. It shows, too, that we at least recognise that Western Union is vital to the Commonwealth, and that the Commonwealth is vital to Western Union. I think that those who would erect a superstructure of federalism on those Western nations would do well to look at the British Commonwealth (I shall always use that word, I think) and see how we have ordered our own affairs. With a far smaller gap of outlook, race and language, we have never had a federal structure. We have never wanted one; unity is achieved without any wordy documents or constitution. If you have not that unity without documents or constitutions, they will not achieve it for you.
The second point, which again I think will afford pretty general satisfaction, is the general trend—I put it no higher than that—towards what is sometimes known as regional association. The British Commonwealth is one great entity, but it is scattered all over the world's surface. The public often ask in vain what is the "Dominion view" on any point. There is, of course, no such thing. The different Dominions all have their own views. Sometimes they coincide, sometimes they do not. If several people look at the same object from different angles, they must necessarily see it differently, not only differently by aspect but varying in importance as well. Nations that are washed by the North Atlantic must take a different view of a certain problem from those nations which are enclosed by the South Pacific. You cannot alter 67 geography, but you can work to put it on your side, instead of against you. If we have a grouping to study common problems, common conditions, and common dangers to people who live in the same climates in the same parts of the world, we shall bring that powerful force of identical interest to the solution of identical difficulties. I think the world is shaping now in its trend towards larger and larger groupings, and that a grouping is much the stronger if it is not composed of the sum of a number of individual units but is in fact composed of a series of smaller groups.
There were other items of deep interest to the public at that meeting. The noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, has already said a word on consultation. Of course, we need to study Commonwealth consultation. But consultation in the policy-making phase is what is absolutely vital, because only then can we reach a policy which is hammered out by the countries together and really agreed. I wish that some report could have been published on the discussions that took place on migration. I think that most of us now are coming to believe that the redistribution of the British race is the most challenging problem that we have in this day and age. I certainly hope that, when the Government can see their way to release details of these discussions, they will do so.
I am not going to delay your Lordships much longer, but to my mind this seems to be the second milestone in this century. The first was the Balfour Declaration in 1926, before the Statute of Westminster was passed. It declared formally that the Dominions were free and equal nations. They had, of course, been so for many years previously but that Statute formally recognised the fact. The accent then was all on independence. Now, in 1948, there is a danger from without. As the noble Lord, Lord Elton, said:Although we are not at war, we are certainly not at peace.Independence goes without saying. The accent now is on interdependence. There is always something to praise, and always something to change, in this great medley of peoples, but I think the wording of the gracious Speech was absolutely correct. It said:The peoples of My Commonwealth offer an example of voluntary and useful co-operation.68 The noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, mentioned blueprints. He said we had never had a blueprint for a Commonwealth, and we must never have one. I remember a German writer, who wrote very intelligently on our Empire problems, saying that the real secret of our past survival and our present strength was that we had refused to commit ourselves to any paper solution to cover overall problems, however tempting the solution may have seemed. Because we have done that, we have so far avoided what we must always avoid—namely, losing the substance for the form. What we have done—I think we can claim this as probably one of the greatest contributions to the world that the British race has ever made—is to evolve a technique of co-operation in which other countries lag far behind. The more they can copy it, the better the world is likely to be. The Commonwealth is a thing of the most infinite variety.
That brings me to my salient point—that variety is variations on fundamental themes. The fundamental ideas and beliefs are unalterable. The British Commonwealth, contrary to what some people think, is not a co-operative marketing body; nor is it a mere defensive alliance. That would not explain its past survival, and its present strength. Because two aggressors in this century thought that it was, they were smashed upon it. It was something far above their degraded comprehension, as they quickly found out. As we know, it rests on that strong spiritual basis which defies exact definition. It shares beliefs in and allegiance to the same things in that same degree which is the only true equality. It is expressed by the unfailing tradition of responsibility and service. Therefore, if any member nation by its own act becomes a foreign nation, it cannot continue to enjoy the full rights of membership. In any human association there must be an equilibrium between rights and duties. What has always been the keynote of the British Commonwealth is that its members have gone all out in the observance of their duties, and the rights have taken care of themselves. If any country, by any such voluntary act, shows that it wishes to have and enjoy those rights without those responsibilities, and if we permit it to do so, the Commonwealth, and Commonwealth membership, will never mean the same thing again.
69 If that is what membership means, I should just like, in closing, to say one word about our position in this country. After all, we are the Home Dominion, one Dominion among many. We have recently had a tremendous acquisition of strength in those three great Asiatic countries, and the Commonwealth has become infinitely more diverse and infinitely vaster. Although we in these Islands are a Dominion, we are a Dominion with a difference. The Statute of Westminster formally declared the equality of the Dominions; in other words, formally acknowledged that centralised control of the Commonwealth had gone. Centralisation of government has indeed gone, but, to a very large extent, centralisation of the resources of war and peace remains in these Islands. Five-sevenths of the British race live in one-ninetieth part of their territories—that is, in Britain. The vast preponderance of wealth and skilled military and industrial man-power lies here as well. We can no longer shoulder all the burdens of the Commonwealth, but what we must do is to continue to provide what they historically look to us to provide—that is, leadership of ideas. If the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, were here, he would remember the words of his old chief, the late Lord Lloyd, when he said:There is no such thing as political evolution. There are the consequences of wise leadership, of bad leadership and of no leadership at all.
§ 5.10 p.m.
My Lords, I want to take up part of my time this afternoon in talking about, not what has been put in the gracious Speech, but what has been left out. For years industry in this country has been paying a heavier and heavier price for its transport. That price has been going up as the inadequacy of our roads has slowed transport down and increased running costs. Two years ago the Minister produced a comprehensive ten-year plan which included the construction of 800 miles of motorways. I believe everyone connected with trade—certainly everyone connected with the roads—hoped that a Bill to enable motorways to be built would have been mentioned as one of the measures to be introduced during the present Session. It has not been included. Many Bills have been included, all of which will lead to a steady drain on our financial resources. Many of them are essential, but there is 70 one which is not, in my opinion, essential. No mention has been made, however, of a Bill which, whilst admittedly it would have made for a heavy capital expenditure, would have meant that when that money had been spent the nation would get back from that expenditure a dividend in the saving of transport costs.
If you put the cost of building motorways at the highest estimate I have yet seen—namely, £150,000 a mile, which is £50,000 a mile more than some estimates—after those roads have been built, after those 800 miles of motorways have been constructed, the return in the form of saving of money to transport, and therefore to industry in this country, will be at the rate of at least 9 per cent. and probably 12 per cent. His Majesty's Government have more or less laid it down that a return of 3 per cent. on our money is all that we can look for. I wonder whether the reason why they have not included this Bill in their programme is that they think a return of as much as 9 per cent. is something indecent and therefore they ought to have nothing to do with it.
Motorways are essential if we are to keep down the cost of our roads. This nation is dependent more and more on keeping the cost of its export goods as low as possible. Transport enters into the manufacturing costs of everything in a much larger degree than most people realise. There is the transport of the raw material, there is the transport of the fuel, there is the transport of the finished article; often there is the transport of the half finished article. All those costs fall ultimately into the cost and the selling price of the finished article. If we can save even 10 per cent. of that transport cost we shall make a great contribution to the saving of the cost of British articles in foreign markets. There is provision in the gracious Speech for Bills to be brought in which have not been definitely named. I beg the Government to bear in mind the importance of giving themselves the right to build motorways as soon as the financial position and the labour position permit. They were the first Government to have the courage to state that a motorway is desirable. Let them be the Government who also have the courage to make it possible.
§ 5.15 p.m.
My Lords, at this hour I shall be very brief indeed. I should like wholeheartedly to support what my noble friend, Lord Sandhurst, has just said about a Bill to enable essential motorways to be built at some future date. He has dealt with those points fully and I shall say no more about the matter. When I heard yesterday the gracious Speech from the Throne, I was glad to note that the Government are going to stimulate recruiting for the Armed Forces. I thought I had heard rather similar words before, and in fact I had, because in the gracious Speech on November 12, 1946, the Government stated they were going to stimulate recruiting to the Armed Forces. All I can say is that I hope the stimulant they use this year will be more successful than the stimulant used in 1946.
I come now to one point which I think has been left out of the gracious Speech—namely, the question of Police Forces. I should like to see the Government stimulate recruiting for the various Police Forces in this country. The Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police is always telling us that he is very short of man-power, and I think any chief constable in any county of Great Britain will tell the same story. I wonder how many noble Lords on either side of the House really know the arduous duties of a policeman. Some noble Lords do. The term of duty of a policeman is much more arduous than that of many manual workers or clerical workers. He has to work at all hours, in different shifts, in all weathers, and he never knows what is round the corner. He has Saturday afternoon at work, which is not popular these days, and he has Sunday work. That comes to him regularly. I do not think that the difference in his wages is sufficient. His wages are certainly not so good as, in my view, they should be, and I should like to see conditions of pay for the police of this country improved.
The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, said a few words about another subject—namely, the cost of living in this country. I entirely agree with him. He made the point, I think, that much of the cost of living is due to the high rate of indirect taxation, such as purchase tax. I sincerely hope that the Government in the next twelve months will try to reduce some of 72 those indirect taxes. We are continually hearing of claims for higher wages from various industries. An industry in which I am particularly interested is putting in its claim for higher wages, and its case is to be heard next week. Now I am quite sure that the basis of that claim lies entirely in the high rate of taxation which the workers in the various industries have to pay. Finally, I should like to say that in my opinion—a very humble opinion—it seems that quite a number of pieces of very useful legislation are going to be put before your Lordships' House. I hope that they will prove to be non-controversial and that we shall be able to agree in all quarters of the House and thereby get our business done in good time.
§ 5.20 p.m.
My Lords, we are nearing the end of a very interesting debate on the gracious Speech, and valuable contributions have been made this afternoon. I think your Lordships will agree that we have heard an excellent speech from my noble friend Lord Tweedsmuir on the subject of the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference. His words will bear thinking over again, and I hope that they will travel far outside the walls of this, your Lordships' House. We have just had two useful and, if I may say so, very practical contributions, one on the subject of transport costs from my noble friend Lord Sandhurst, and the other on the subject of police recruitment from my noble friend Lord Hindlip. I am glad that Lord Hindlip took this opportunity to paying tribute to the great work of the Police Force, which has not previously been mentioned in our debate.
To my mind what stands out is that the foreign situation to-day is paramount; and it is essential that we show the greatest measure of national solidarity and determination. The clouds gather and the people of these Islands are again called upon to demonstrate their essential unity and strength. That I believe we shall do, in spite of any internal controversy which we may have. It should go forth that, essentially, our nation is united and determined. I would like to say—and I believe that I speak for many others—that we admire the patience and the tenacity shown by the Foreign Secretary in his tedious work. If his patience gave out at times, it would only reflect 73 the feelings of the great nation behind him, which have been sorely tried by the attitude adopted by those who seek to oppose us at every turn. No country wants war less than this country. Twice within our own memory our economy has been shaken and our families torn and rent by dreadful wars. Yet we must be, and we shall be, prepared to face the ultimate possibility of war if it is the only alternative to abandoning our principles.
In Berlin, the air lift has been a wonderful achievement. I would humbly re-echo the tribute which has been paid in the gracious Speech to those who have made that air lift possible. It might well prove a turning point, as it has upset the calculations of those who have tried to squeeze us out. In these days of tension, weakness is a temptation and an incentive to wrongdoers. We must be strong, and we shall give all our support to the Government in the measures they take to strengthen our Forces. In the gracious Speech the following words were used:My Ministers are taking steps to ensure that My Armed Forces shall be efficient and well equipped, and that the best use shall be made of men called up under the National Service Act.To-morrow your Lordships will debate defence in detail, so at this point I shall only touch upon it. Ministers must know, and heads of the Services must be painfully aware, that a grave mistake was made when the Government went back on their considered judgment and reduced the period of National Service from eighteen months to twelve months. In my view, and, I believe, in the view of many of your Lordships, the only way to implement the words in the gracious Speech—namely., that "the best use shall be made of men called up under the National Service Act"—is to go back to the period of training of eighteen months. We shall see whether that step is taken.
Now a word about Civil Defence. Before the last war I was connected with setting up the Civil Defence organisation in Scotland, and I well remember the complicated nature of the machine that we created: but when created it was a fine, flexible machine on the same lines, broadly, throughout the country. I welcome the reference in the gracious Speech to this, but. I hope that arrangements are already in train for strengthening our Civil Defence. I hope that discussions 74 with the local authorities have gone far, and that our Civil Defence, in line with our Armed Forces, will rapidly be strengthened. Your Lordships will agree that material strength alone is not enough. We must have moral and spiritual strength also, and I believe that at this juncture this great nation can show that.
The final paragraph of the gracious Speech referred to the meeting of Commonwealth Prime Ministers. As that has been so extremely well dealt with by my noble friend Lord Tweedsmuir, I propose to say very little upon it, except just this. The Conference provided a marked contrast to other Conferences, held in Paris and elsewhere. A sense of common outlook and endeavour appeared to pervade all the Prime Ministers attending, including those who took their seats for the first time. May I strike a personal note? It was with a feeling of intense joy, remembering my experiences of the last five years, that I learned of these Asiatic statesmen taking their seats, as representatives of the new Dominions, at the table of the Commonwealth Conference. We hope that we may continue to have the benefit of their wisdom. The Conference was indeed a great achievement, but it can be maintained only if the Commonwealth is a reality and not something which is so loosely associated that it becomes a sham.
My noble friend Lord Tweedsmuir referred to one country which was not represented at the Conference table and which, by certain actions which are proposed, appears to be about to cut the last link with the Commonwealth. Noble Lords will know of whom I speak. That is possibly a delicate subject on which it would be wise to say little. But I notice, from the statement made in another place yesterday, that the implications of these proposals for that country are being explained to her. I hope that they are being frankly and correctly explained to her, and that membership of the Commonwealth will not lightly be set aside. The choice rests with that country. I should like here to pay a tribute to the many citizens of that country who voluntarily came to our aid during the war. Many served in the Army and several of them won V.C.s. The choice with regard to the future is for that country to make, and the implications must be clearly explained to her. Should the last link be severed, 75 the case of Northern Ireland will assume special significance. To your Lordships, I would say that I trust we shall do nothing to drive Northern Ireland away. She must and will remain a welcome member of our community of nations so long as she wishes to do so.
There is one other point that I wish to mention on Commonwealth affairs, and that I do with great pleasure. I would re-echo the joy we all feel in the announcement in the gracious Speech that their Majesties will visit Australia and New Zealand. This will be of immense benefit to those Dominions, and will be greatly welcomed in that hemisphere, and we must show our joy here in this country, too, on the decision that has been made.
The gracious Speech shows a full programme of legislation. Though we have not seen the Bills, much of it appears to be non-controversial. For example, I am not likely to take offence at the proposal to improve water supplies in Scotland, or to develop the white fish industry. But there is one proposal which brings us into the field of controversy. I refer to the proposal to nationalise iron and steel. Here I should take the opportunity of declaring my own position. I am a member of a family who for three generations past have been interested in steel in Scotland. My grandfather was a pioneer of steel-making. His sons followed on and now his great grandson is working there. What was once a small family business is now a great public concern with, curiously enough, as many shareholders as there are workers—about 15,000.
Having declared my interest, I hope your Lordships will extend to me your usual indulgence if I speak on a matter of which I have some knowledge, though for a number of years I have been engaged in other duties. We have seen to-day the title of the measure which has been introduced, but not its provisions. Therefore, I think it would be out of place to attempt to go too fully into the question. But there are a few observations which ought to be made at this time. The main justification for the step seems to be summed up in a pamphlet which somebody sent me to-day, British Steel at Britain's Service, which puts forward the project of nationalisation. 76 Now I enter into the field of healthy controversy and I hope it will not be resented. The pamphlet has no more relation to the present position of steel than the tale of Rip Van Winkle. He, at least, woke up. The writers of this pamphlet are writing about a situation ten years old. They deal with pre-war troubles in the industry, giving little credit to the present magnificent performance and developments, and prescribe for it a dose of medicine, as one would prescribe for a man's illness of ten years ago when he is now in perfect health.
I will quote only one example of how I believe this pamphlet to be out of date and incorrect. It refers to the resignation a few days ago of almost all the members of the Iron and Steel Board appointed by the Government, and adduces that these resignations are evidence that mechanism of this kind breaks down under pressure of sectional interest. But the whole country knows that in fact the resignations were due solely to impending nationalisation and to the refusal of these distinguished and experienced men to take a part in it.
The noble Viscount, Lord Hall, referred to one point of which a good deal has been made, that steel is receiving a subsidy. The correct position is that the Government are buying foreign steel to the value of about half of the so-called subsidy and are selling this to users in this country at British steel prices. The foreign steel is dearer than British steel. That in itself is a tribute to British manufacture. It is being sold to British customers at British steel prices, and the loss is borne by the Government. Other sums are spent on scrap from Germany and in transport charges on ore. The benefit goes to the consumer of steel rather than to the maker. It does not seem to be a sufficient justification for this stern dose of medicine that is being administered. If the so-called subsidy were removed, it would add less than 5 per cent. to the cost of steel—much less than the rise in the price of coal and electricity since nationalisation.
The history of the Government's approach to this problem is interesting. It indicates indecision of mind. It was in the Labour Party's Election manifesto that it was first announced that the industry would be nationalised, but without any explanation of how it was to be 77 done. It was evident at that time that the present Government had not decided, or did not know how it was to be done. Shortly after this Government were returned to power, Mr. Morrison told Parliament that the Government were awaiting the Report of the Iron and Steel Federation. This Report was made on the invitation of the Coalition Government before the Election, and it was received in 1945. It forms a great plan for the development of the steel industry, costing about £200,000,000, of which a great part has already been planned and a considerable part already spent. That plan is going ahead apace. Not until April, 1946, did the Government again return to the charge, when it was announced that nationalisation would be proceeded with; but still no details were given.
What happened was that the Minister went to the industry and asked for a scheme to carry out nationalisation. This was described in a speech made outside this House by Mr. Churchill in these words:They are asked to dig their graves, set up their gallows, provide the rope and show Mr. Wilmot how to tie the knot.It was too much to ask. The industry did not produce the plan requested. Then there was a further period of indecision, during which an eminent South African expert was invited to give his views. The Report of Dr. Vanderbijl was hidden behind an iron curtain, but some of us believe that it was a warning not to carry out the project of nationalisation.
One argument adduced for the nationalisation of the iron and steel industry is that the men who are working so well just now are working under the promise of nationalisation, which is giving them great encouragement in their work, and, therefore, that the promise should be fulfilled. I seem to remember, and no doubt your Lordships will remember, that before the coal industry was nationalised, exactly the reverse argument was used. We were told that the men were miserable and were not working their best, that they had no confidence in their present masters and wanted to be nationalised. It surely is a flexible argument that can be used in both ways! In my opinion, the men are working extremely well for two reasons. First, they are a fine body of men—there is none finer in any industry in this country—and they are doing all they can to help their country. 78 Secondly, they are making extremely good wages. The profit motive, however much it may be decried in some quarters, would seem to be operative. There are good wages in the steel trade to-day. At the end of June the average weekly earnings were over £7 as compared with less than £4 in 1938. The men are working to get good wages for themselves and their families and are producing record outputs.
I would make an aside at this point. The Scottish Nationalist Party have never made great headway, but if the industry is controlled from Whitehall by an unimaginative bureaucracy it may prove a tonic to their fortunes. I believe that at this juncture there is every reason why the industry should be left alone to help us balance our payments and strengthen our nation's defences. It is urged that in the unhappy event of war it is better that the steel trade should belong to the nation. But this industry has already made great and undeniable contributions in two wars which we have won. It is pure conjecture to say that, in the event of war, we shall be better placed with a nationalised industry.
The abolition of private monopolies is urged in the pamphlet. On another occasion I might analyse the fallacy of this argument, but I do not propose to detain your Lordships now. It is said that the industry cannot raise the money necessary to complete its £200,000,000 development plan. But if it were given a reasonable prospect of freedom from interference in the form of compulsory acquisition, I venture to say that there would be no difficulty in financing the whole scheme. As it is, a large part of it is now under construction, and production for the year 1950 may well reach the figure of 18,000,000 tons, which is more than the Government expected. No doubt your Lordships, along with myself, have recently been puzzled at a large poster which has been spread before our eyes on many hoardings portraying two enormous spanners talking to each other. I see now that the picture was prophetic, and that these were the spanners to be thrown into the works by nationalisation.
I have not hesitated to indulge in what I would describe as a little healthy controversy, because many noble Lords feel strongly about the proposal which finds 79 itself included in the gracious Speech. The noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor, who follows me in speaking, knows that your Lordships have already saved the country from one ill-considered proposal—namely, one contained in the Criminal Justice Bill. Whether there is further rescue work for your Lordships to do we cannot say until we see the Steel Bill. But all of us on this side of the House, and I fancy most noble Lords opposite, regret that when we should have the greatest measure of national harmony, we are to enter upon a controversy of this kind. Yet I propose to conclude on the same note on which I began. With all our dissensions and all our disputes, we shall none the less show to the world that in these difficult days we have an essential unity among our people.
§ 5.42 p.m.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, I have no intention of inflicting a long speech upon your Lordships at this late hour. There are, however, a few observations I would like to make. I hope that the noble Lord who has just spoken will not think me discourteous if I do not follow him on the controversy in regard to steel. The noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, dealt with it, and my noble friend Lord Hall replied to him. From listening to noble Lords, I gather that they are not entirely in favour of the Government proposal. When they have seen what the Government proposal is, they will be better able to express an unbiased view upon it. I anticipate that before we are very much older we shall hear what your Lordships think about the actual proposal, which I feel merits, and I believe will receive, close and careful consideration. That is all I wish to say about steel.
I propose to say a few words about something which nobody has mentioned, and as it concerns my Department and no one else would beat the drum for me, I must beat it for myself. I refer to legal aid. I propose to say a few words on that particularly for this reason. For the last three years I have sat in this House, and sometimes I have heard this Government held up as a totalitarian Government that is going to crush the small man like a Moloch, deprive him of his rights, ride roughshod over him, and so on and so forth. What are we going to do? This Moloch-minded Government 80 have done away with the old rule that the Crown can do no wrong, and people can now sue the Crown in any court of the land. Having done that, we are now proposing to provide public money in order to put the little man in a position in which he can bring his action against the Crown, or against other people, in any court of law. That has absolutely no parallel in any country in the world. I cannot imagine it being a piece of legislation which would have commended itself to Adolf Hitler; and I can imagine some rulers to-day who would not altogether like it. There it is. If we succeed in carrying through this legislation, at least let it never be said again that we are determined to crush the rights of the small man, or to prevent him from asserting those rights.
There are two other pieces of legislation which are not referred to in the gracious Speech but which have been mentioned by two noble Lords. May I remind your Lordships of my experience? This is the first time that I have ever succeeded in getting a Bill which concerns my Department mentioned in the gracious Speech. Notwithstanding that, I have succeeded in getting not a few Bills introduced. The noble Lord who is interested in the subject of motorways would be quite wrong to assume that, because that subject is not mentioned in the King's Speech, there is no possibility of the introduction of a Bill to deal with it. As I have made it quite plain before, I am the last person in the world to make any sort of implied promise that there will be such a Bill—I make no promise whatever—but I do state that the subject matter which the noble Lord has in mind is one which must be present to the minds of His Majesty's Ministers as being a topic which at some time will merit consideration. With regard to the Police Force, the position is that at the present moment a Committee is sitting under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Oaksey. When we receive the Report of that Committee we shall examine it with great care, to see what we can do to remedy the present unhappy state of affairs, and legislation may or may not be required. For my own part, with a considerable experience in this matter, I would like to endorse what the noble Lord said about the debt which we owe to the police. They are a fine body of men, and they are men for whom we all wish to do whatever 81 we reasonably can to see that a policeman's life is a happy one.
I would now like to say a word or two about the Commonwealth Conference. As I was present at most of its meetings, I should say something about it. I very much rejoiced to hear the noble Lord who spoke on this subject say that those who favour the idea of the Federal Union should have some regard to the fact that the Commonwealth has grown up without any definite, formal, written Constitution at all. I believe, with him, that that is its strength. I believe the fact that we have been able to avoid what I think he called "wordy documents" is all to the good. I. only hope that in expressing those views—which I may say I have previously expressed—the noble Lord does not get into trouble. If he does and it is any consolation to him to know it, I may tell him that I, at any rate, am wholeheartedly in sympathy with what he has said. It is inevitably difficult to report decisions arrived at, for this reason: it is not the function of a Conference like this to reach decisions. I am quite certain it would be very dangerous if the various member States came to think that there was some body sitting up aloft that was making decisions which bound them. Is it not rather the function of such a Conference for the various members to get to know each other, in order to acquire an understanding of each other's problems—what they are, and how they impinge on each other—and to recommend to their various Governments what measures may be adopted? It would be quite wrong for me to announce any of those recommendations unless and until they have been deliberated upon and passed by the various member Governments.
It is no secret to say that one of the matters which we did discuss was how or whether we could improve our method of consultation. Of course, what is essential, as the noble Lord so rightly said, is that you should have consultation, not when you have fixed your policy, but when you are deciding what your policy is to be; that is to say, at the formative stage. That we must try to do. I would say further that I was present at the Imperial Conference in, I think, 1930. I remember it very well, because at the Lawyers' Conference in, I think, 1929 or 1930, I had to state what the terms of the Statute of Westminster 82 must be. I recall how exceedingly difficult it was, even though we had a large measure of good will, to draft that statement in a way to which everybody agreed. It makes me realise how difficult it would be to draft any sort of Federal Constitution.
I was impressed, when I returned to the Imperial Conference after all these years, to find what a useful and genuine contribution was being made by the three new States, India, Pakistan and Ceylon. We rejoice, particularly, to be able to record the fact that Ceylon possesses equal sovereignty with ourselves and any of the member States; and if and when the question of membership of the United Nations again arises, she will have just as much right to be there as any of the various member States. We did get to know each other. We discussed the problems of the day—the economic problems and the defence problems. All the cards were placed fairly on the table, and we began to understand what contribution the various member States could make in regard to these great problems. I believe that the Conference, if it did nothing more than that, will have proved to have been an outstanding success. As I say, it was inspiring to me to see these new members making a contribution which was of the utmost importance.
The noble Lord referred to the use of the word "British" Well, he and I are intensely proud to describe ourselves as "British subjects," but we have always to look at the point of view of the fellow on the other side of the hill, and realise that our history, our tradition and our training may be very different from his. The last thing we want to do is to make any difficulties for any of the member States, and I am sure the noble Lord would agree with me there. Indeed, we considered this topic when we discussed our recent Nationality Bill and he will remember that we adopted an alternative title for those who did not wish to describe themselves as "British subjects"—a term which, to some minds, might convey, quite wrongly, the idea of subjection to Britain. Those people may, if they are so minded, call themselves "Commonwealth citizens."
There are difficulties of a constitutional nature which are obviously moving ahead of us, and which have been hinted at by noble Lords. We shall, not speculate 83 about those matters unless and until they come upon us, and then we shall have to cope with them as best we can. But I myself believe that this grouping which we have, this strange body we call the Commonwealth to-day, must become not merely a passive thing but more and more an active guiding force, guiding the policies of all its constituent members. I do not believe it conflicts in any way with the United Nations or the idea of the United Nations. On the contrary, I believe that it supports, strengthens and buttresses that idea. Neither do I believe it conflicts in any way with the conception of Western Union. Indeed, anybody who had any doubts about that would have had those doubts resolved had he been present at the Conference meetings. The Conference entirely endorsed our participation and the part we should play in Western Europe. It is the fact that those three conceptions are in no way inconsistent with one another—the United Nations, Western Union, and the Commonwealth to which we are proud to belong.
I do not think there are any other matters to which I should refer. As to defence, I quite agree that we must make ourselves strong. I could not agree more. I think I have said this before, and I feel, with the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, that the idea of a preventive war is horrifying. It is not for us to wage a preventive war, but it is for us, if we can, to be in such condition of strong defence that in that indirect way we can prevent war by making it certain that anybody who attacks us will lose the war. In that sense, and in that sense only, let us subscribe to the necessity of defence. With those few words, and thanking your Lordships for the care and consideration you have given to this debate, I conclude this part of our discussion.
§ EARL FORTESCUE
On behalf of my noble friend Viscount Long, I beg to move that this debate be now adjourned.
§ Moved that the debate be now adjourned.—(Earl Fortescue.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly.