§ 2.41 p.m.
§ Debate resumed (according to Order) on the Motion moved yesterday by Lord Crook—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."
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, yesterday it was our privilege to witness the ceremony of the Opening of a new Parliament by His Majesty the King, with all the state and panoply which is connected with that occasion. It was also our, privilege to listen to the gracious Speech from the Throne, delivered by His Majesty in person, who thus by his presence gave practical evidence of that close connection between the Crown and the people which is the very essence of our Constitution. To-day we meet again to consider the contents of that Speech which, of course, summarises the policies to be pursued by His Majesty's Government during the forthcoming Session.
As I listened to the Speech yesterday—and I have no doubt other noble Lords had similar thoughts—I could not help throwing my mind back to a very similar occasion five years ago, in 1945, when a Labour Government took over the reins of power with an overall majority for the first time in the history of our country. That, of course, was a very notable and significant occasion. For those of us who belong to the Conservative Party I cannot pretend that it was a very cheerful one. As your Lordships know, we had suffered a severe defeat at the polls, and that, from a purely Party point of view, is always rather depressing. Moreover, we were faced with the initiation of a policy which we believed was certain further to abridge the liberties of the British people, and which we thought was not calculated to assist the recovery of our country from the ravages of war. But, 37 at any rate, there was this cause of satisfaction—and it was a real cause at that time—that the war itself, which had caused such grievous sufferings to the British people, had ended, and had ended in victory. The threat to our very existence, probably the most dangerous threat with which our country has ever been faced, had been repelled, and a new world peace system had been set up which, unlike the League of Nations, contained both the United States and Russia.
At that time I think it would be fair to say that the general view was that we might fairly hope for a period of peace in which international tension might he relaxed, and that a climate had been created which would enable the necessary reconstruction to take place both at home and abroad. Unhappily, I am afraid that hope has not been entirely realised. For this it is not my intention in any way this afternoon to blame His Majesty's Government. They, I know, have done their utmost to support and sustain the United Nations Organisation; and in that object I know they will agree that they have had the wholehearted support of the Opposition Parties. On the main aim of British foreign policy—namely, the maintenance of peace by the co-operation of peace-loving nations—there is, indeed, no difference of opinion at all here in Britain between the main Parties in the State: there is no difference between anyone, except conceivably a very small and irresponsible element of the extreme Left—and even they, I should say, are considerably less obstreperous than they were in the beginning of the last Parliament.
The failure of the United Nations to achieve the results which we had all hoped of it flows not from any half-heartedness on our part hut, as we all know, purely and simply from the attitude of Russia. That has been the cause of practically all the difficulties that have occurred. Clearly, the success of any world organisation for the preservation of peace depends upon the sincere intention of all the members to use the organisation, not for their own advantage but for the benefit of humanity as a whole. That is the essence of any world peace scheme. But, unhappily, that is not the spirit that has actuated the Russian Government during these critical years. As your Lordships well remember, by the use of the veto for 38 purposes for which it was never intended, and in many other ways, they have sought to use the machinery of the Charter purely for their own national advantage. As a result, I am afraid that we must face the fact that they made the United Nations, of which so much had been hoped, largely ineffective as an instrument for peace. It has great advantages for other purposes, but for that particular purpose it has to a great extent become ineffective.
For the first few years after the war, indeed, it looked as if the danger of another conflict was net too distant; and it even seemed to some of us that all the sacrifices that had been made might have been made in vain. Then, as your Lordships remember, in pure self-defence, the Western Nations got together, integrated their policies and signed the Western and Atlantic Pacts, which were, in effect, the recreation of the balance of power. That led to a temporary and considerable improvement in the position. I am not going to suggest for one moment that the balance of power in any form is a substitute for a world peace organisation. Past history has shown how imperfect an instrument it is for the preservation of enduring peace. But, at any rate, we can say that what was done on this particular occasion has served to hold the situation for a certain period, and for that we can ail be profoundly grateful.
Now, however, it seems to me, and probably to other noble Lords who are here this afternoon, that the situation is again darkening. Probably that is due to Russia's possession of the atomic bomb. So long as this devastating instrument of war was the.property only of the Western Powers, no doubt she may well have thought it wise to "pipe down" in her demands. But now she probably feels that a new situation is being created, in which it is safe for her and her satellites to adopt a more aggressive attitude, believing that they have a weapon which entitles them to adopt that position.
As a result, I am afraid we cannot ignore the fact that there are distinct signs of an increase of tension, of which examples are, first, the more sustained pressure which Russia is at present exerting in South-East Asia, about which none of us can afford to he neglectful, and also such incidents as the arrest in the 39 Russian-dominated countries of citizens of Western Powers upon what appear to be trumped-up charges, and the sentence of these people to long terms of imprisonment as a result of confessions extorted by means which may be barbarous and are evidently unjustifiable. No doubt the Russians and the Russian-dominated countries feel that they can afford this general attitude towards the rest of the world without ill-effects to themselves, and that the Western Powers will not dare to take any action which is likely to exacerbate the position. But that is a very dangerous frame of mind for any country to get into. It is the same assumption which finally led Hitler into war. A policy of that kind possibly achieves initial success, because, after all, peace-loving countries are anxious to avoid crises and are therefore willing to put up with a good deal. But a point is ultimately reached when they cannot concede any more, and then war is not far away.
If that is a fair assessment of the present position, and I think it is, it will be evident to all of us, in all parts of the House, that this is not a situation which can be allowed to drift. It is not a position where one can afford just to sit still and hope for the best. As I see it, it is the duty of any Government and every Government, of whatever political colour it may be, to take any steps that are possible to avoid a further deterioration. No stone must be left unturned, It is for that reason that many of us, irrespective of Party, deeply regretted the completely negative attitude taken by the Government to the proposal of Mr. Churchill for a further approach to Generalissimo Stalin to try to resolve the present deadlock between Russia and the Western Powers. To dismiss it as a mere "stunt" is surely entirely to misapprehend both the gravity of the situation and, if I may say so, the temper of Mr. Churchill's own mind.
I understand the Government's difficulties at the time when the proposal was made. They had been featuring him as a warmonger, I read an account of him some days ago—in the Daily Herald I think it was—in which he was referred to as "Warmonger No. 1." It was embarrassing for people who were attacking him on these grounds suddenly to find him coming out as a sort of dove of 40 peace. Of course, as most of your Lordships know, this picture of Mr. Churchill as a warmonger, however convenient it may have been for a certain number of people in an Election, when we all say things which perhaps we would not say at other times, is an absolute travesty of the facts. I suppose no one would deny that Mr. Churchill is a fighter; but one can be a fighter for something good just as for something bad. One can be a fighter for peace, as well as one can be a tighter for war. That, as anybody who has known him at all well during that period will say, was the rôle that it was his object to play in the years between the two wars. That is why he was always such an ardent supporter of the League of Nations, as he was from the very first. That is why he believed throughout those years that we had to be strongly armed in order that the Germans might be discouraged from embarking upon the gamble of war. And who will say now that he was entirely wrong in that view?
If we ought to have learned anything from the experiences we went through between 1918 and 1939, I would submit that it is this: collective security without armaments in the hands of peace-loving nations is merely collective insecurity, and nothing else. That is what Mr. Churchill saw, and that was his object in calling for increased armaments for this country—it was to buttress peace. If he now puts forward a new proposal for an approach to the Russian Government, it is because he believes, as a great many of us in all quarters of this House believe, that some further positive step must be taken if peace is to be preserved, and that it is not enough just to sit still and hope that the Russians will come to us or that some other way will be found out of the present deadlock without any effort of our own. I hope, therefore, now that the Election campaign is out of the way, the Government will give further thought to this proposal. I am not asking them to declare themselves on it to-day, but I am asking them to give the matter further thought.
I think we all welcomed the statement in the gracious Speech—I will quote the words—that theGovernment will continue to give full support to the United Nations, and in particular they will use their utmost endeavours, through the United Nations"—41 I stress these words—to assist in finding a durable solution of the tremendous problem of atomic energy.I beg the Government to say to-day that they will not close their mind to other steps, steps outside the United Nations, supplementary to the United Nations, however unconventional those steps may be, which might possibly lead to an improvement in the present situation—I mean, of course, by agreement with the United States; I am not asking them to go ahead without getting agreement from the United States. But I believe that with that proviso they could do this without in any way prejudicing the firm position which they have hitherto taken up.
I do not ask the Government to show weakness. I believe that in this situation any show of weakness would be fatal. Indeed, many of us for that very reason deeply regretted the sudden decision of the Government during the Parliamentary Recess, when Parliament was not there to discuss the matter, to recognise the Red Government of China. I believe that it was unnecessary, and I believe that it has been lamentable in its general result. It has discouraged our friends in Asia; it has exposed a difference of view between us and the United States which can give satisfaction to no one but Moscow; and it has even exposed a difference of view between us and some, at any rate, of the other Empire countries who I am told—and perhaps the noble Viscount who knows them will correct me if I am wrong—were not taken into prior consultation on this question, although the Colombo Conference was immediately pending.
Finally, as I see it, it has put this country into a position of acute embarrassment on the Security Council, where General Chiang Kai-Shek's Government is still represented. It is for that reason that I repeat that I believe recognition, at the time when it was given (and after all in foreign affairs timing is perhaps the most important thing), was a blunder of the first water. I understand—at least I have been told—that it is defended on the grounds that it will help British traders in China itself, where so many millions of British capital have been invested. Of course, we warmly welcome His Majesty's Government's tender care for British capital in China; I only wish that they showed a little of the same care 42 for British capital at home!But I cannot help feeling that the question of whether or not we sell goods in China does not depend upon the mere question of whether we send an Ambassador to that country It depends far more on the more practical consideration whether the Chinese want British goods or whether they do not. If they want British goods they will no doubt make arrangements, formal or informal, by which they can obtain them. If they do not want British goods, the presence of an Ambassador in China will not make the faintest difference.
In any case, why did the Government recognise this Government de jure? Anyone connected with foreign affairs knows that to recognise de jure is a great act of public policy—especially in the case a an immense country like China. It is a step which, I should have thought, ought to have been taken only after the most careful thought of the considerations involved—considerations not merely of trade, but of public policy and international policy as a whole, and at any rate only after the Conference at Colombo where, I understood, it was to be one of the main subjects of discussion.
The Government's decision on this particular point, I cannot help feeling, bears all the signs of a panic-stricken haste; and that is the last impression we ought to give. That may not have been the reason, but that was the impression giver, both in the United States and here; and it is, as I say, the last impression we ought to give in dealing wish Russia and the Russian-dominated countries.
For the same reason I regret that a rather firmer line was not taken with regard to the arrest and trial of Mr. Sanders in Hungary. It may be that the Lord Chancellor or the noble Viscount, Lord Addison, will be able to tell us something more about this; but on the face of it, here is a case of a British citizen, engaged in his lawful avocations, who was arrested and who, I understand, was kept incommunicado far several months and was then tried on the basis of a confession which he Foreign Office themselves say was false and extorted by unjustifiable methods. And all we have done, so far as I know, has been to send a note. And when that note was treated with contumely we did nothing more. In former days—I know these times are 43 different—the occasion would almost have justified breaking off diplomatic relations; indeed, I understand that the United States have broken off diplomatic relations with Bulgaria in a rather similar case in which they have been treated in an offensive manner. But, in any case, to take no firm action at all could, I should have thought, tend only to lower our prestige in the eyes of the world.
My Lords, in urging the Government now, by agreement with the United States, to propose reopening discussions with Russia on all outstanding issues I am not suggesting anything of that kind. I am not asking them to make any concessions without a quid pro quo. I propose they should talk us equals with no preconditions. The purpose of the conversations would be purely and simply to clear away the miasma of distrust which is now clouding the relations between the Soviet and ourselves. I find great difficulty in believing that the Russian Government really want another war, in which Russia could only suffer further crippling injury. The chief factor in the present impasse, no doubt, is that they feel a fundamental distrust of us, as we feel a fundamental distrust of them. Surely it is worth while making yet another effort to remove that mistrust. Even if we were to fail, as it is of course possible that we might, the situation could not be worse than the steady drift towards disaster which is now going on. And if we succeeded, of course, a new era for mankind would open.
I hope your Lordships will forgive me for devoting so much time this afternoon to foreign affairs. It is a subject which played a comparatively small part in the recent General Election, but I am convinced that of all the vital issues that face us at the present time—and they are many—the most important is the maintenance of peace. If peace is preserved, we can look forward, with all the inventions of modern science, to a steady increase in the prosperity of the world; and in that expanding prosperity, however foolish or unwise may be the policy of any particular Government, this country will ultimately share. If, on the other hand, by any mischance or failure on our part, war breaks out again, with all the concomitants of atom bombs, hydrogen bombs and other devilries of 44 that kind, there is no hope at all for humanity. Our social services and standards of living, and all the rights and liberties of individual citizens, would go under in the welter and confusion that would ensue. This is the greatest of all the issues before us to-day, and I make no apology for having given pride of place to it in my remarks this afternoon.
And now I should like to turn for a few minutes to home policy. Here I would say that I notice one very great difference between the gracious Speech which we discussed in 1945 and the gracious Speech which we are discussing to-day. In 1945 the Government had put before the people at the General Election a number of rather far-reaching proposals; and the people, wisely or unwisely, according to one's own particular point of view, returned them with a great majority. As a result, all those proposals, I think, found a place in the gracious Speech. How different is the situation to-day! In this Election again the Government put forward a number of very far-reaching proposals: the nationalisation or socialisation of this, that and the other. They have not changed at all in these rive years. But the British people, in the light of five years of practical experience of Socialism, have changed a great deal. They returned the Government indeed, but they returned them with a minority vote; and with the smallest majority of modern times—hardly a majority at all.
The reasons for this remarkable alteration in the balance of public opinion, I think we shall all agree, were probably very varied in character, as is always the case on occasions of this kind. One consideration will affect one man; another will affect another. One of the main reasons, I should have thought, if I may say so without impertinence, was the tendency of the Government speakers during the Election campaign to concentrate rather upon the past than upon the future. At the present time the public are not greatly interested in the past. They want, above all, to know what is going to happen next; and of that they were told by Government spokesmen little or nothing. Another reason, I think, was the omission from the Manifesto on which the Government fought the Election, of any facts, however important, which did not fit in with the case they wanted to make. That was immediately noticed by the British people, 45 and it served only to cast doubts on everything else the Government spokesmen said.
But above all, one of the main reasons for the great change in the temper and mind of the electors was, I believe, the undeviating, rigid adherence of the Government to the policy of nationalisation, socialisation, or whatever you may call it, as a cure for our ills, in spite of all practical experience to the contrary in the course of the preceding five years. If there is anything certain about this General Election, I should have thought it is that on this occasion, at any rate, the country voted against Socialism. They had seen it in practical operation and it had not produced any of those results which had been so confidently, and I believe so sincerely, hoped for. It had not led to lower costs and prices; it had not led to greater contentment among the men in the nationalised industries themselves. I expect that many of your Lordships have addressed meetings during this campaign, and you will agree with me than one had only to mention the price and quality of coal or the cost of railway tickets at any meeting to see what the British people felt on those subjects: and the same I think would be true of the rigid control of housing by the present Minister of Health.
I do not pretend that there were not a very considerable number of voters who did not still support the Government. Of course there were. Indeed, the Government may fairly claim—and probably the Leader of the House is already making a note upon this point—that they polled a larger number of votes on this occasion than ever before. I am quite prepared to concede him that point. But that was largely due to the fact that a very high level of employment had been maintained during the preceding five years, and for this happy situation the Government claimed the entire credit. They ignored the existence of the American Loans; they ignored the existence of the biggest sellers' market in the history of the world; they ignored the fact that every other country in Europe, so far as I know—with the exception of Germany, Italy, and Belgium where special conditions prevailed—had the same agreeable situation as we had in this country. The Government ignored these facts. They just pointed 46 to the figures, without being too scrupulous about the reasons, and those voters who preferred to look at the happy present rather than the uncertain future supported them. But, even so, I would point out to the Leader of the House that they obtained only a minority of the votes cast. Those given against Socialism outnumber by somewhere near 2,000,000 those given in favour.
It seems that the Government have accepted this fact, and so the list of new and far-reaching measures of nationalisation which had been enumerated in the Election, manifesto of the Labour Party—the nationalisation of sugar, the nationalisation of cement, the nationalisation (or is it "mutualisation"?) of industrial insurance—are conspicuously absent from the gracious Speech, which becomes by comparison with that of 1945 a very mild and anodyne affair. All of us on this side of the House warmly welcome this spirit of realism in, the Government. We think it is very much to their credit: and as we share their view that they have no mandate for any further measures of nationalisation, this should conduce to the harmony of our proceedings in the forthcoming Session.
There is, however, one glaring exception to this more sensible spirit which is now apparently animating His Majesty's Ministers, and I must draw attention to it. It seems, if I have read correctly the Prime Minister's speech delivered in another place yesterday, that they intend to go on with the nationalisation of the iron and steel industry. On what grounds they justify this I really do not understand. Clearly, if there is no mandate for the nationalisation of the other industries mentioned in the Government's Election manifesto, there is no mandate either for iron and steel. Your Lordships will remember the long controversy that raged on this subject during the last Parliament, and which ended with the postponement of the bringing into operation of the Act until after the General Election. Throughout the whole of that long controversy—and I think noble Lords opposite will agree with this—we on this side of the House never claimed any right to interpret the will of the people. What we did claim was that we had both a right and a duty to ensure that the people themselves should have an opportunity of coming to considered 47 conclusions on a scheme upon which they had not hitherto been consulted and on which their views were not yet known. That was our only object in our approach to that Bill, and in that object we were successful. It was, as I said at the time, not a victory for this House; it was a victory for constitutional procedure.
Now the people have had their opportunity, and on the basis of the votes cast for the Government, who supported the nationalisation of iron and steel, and for the Conservative and Liberal Parties, who opposed the nationalisation of iron and steel, it is quite evident that the electors have declared themselves definitely against the Government's proposals. In such circumstances, on what possible basis, either of equity or of democratic propriety, can the Government justify going on with proposals so decisively rejected? I am bound to say that many of us, and I think many people outside this House, were both bewildered and shocked by what we read in the paper this morning; and I believe that will be the view of the country as a whole. I can only assume, if it is not impertinent to try to fathom the Government's mind, that the Minister of Health and those who share his views have demanded their pound of flesh and that the moderate members of the Government have had, as usual, to give way to his demands. I understand that both the Leader of the House and the Lord Chancellor intend to take part in this debate. We shall, of course, look forward with the greatest interest to what they have to tell us on this subject; but I doubt whether with all their forensic skill they will succeed in justifying the unjustifiable.
My Lords, I am going to say no more this afternoon on this question. I think I am right in saying that the members of the new Steel Board or Steel Corporation, whichever the correct name is, will not be and cannot be appointed before October 1 next. A great deal may happen before that. I hope most sincerely that before that date wiser counsels will prevail with the Government and that they will at any rate agree to postpone the bringing into operation of this Act until after another General Election. In view of the verdict which the people have given, that would be the only honest thing to do. If the Government insist on flouting the declared 48 will of the electorate on this question, I believe most profoundly that well-merited retribution will await them when next they go to the polls.
I have already taken as much of the time of the House as would be right or proper at the beginning of a debate in which a great many other noble Lords wish to speak. I quite recognise that I have dealt with only one or two aspects of our national problems. I have said nothing about the general economic situation and the measures which are in our view necessary in order to deal with the dangers in that sphere which are at present overhanging our country. I propose to leave those, if I may, to my noble friend Lord Swinton, who speaks with far greater authority on those subjects than I do. Nor have I spoken of housing, to which my noble friend Lord Llewellin proposes to direct the attention of your Lordships at a later stage in this debate. I must, however, if I may, briefly register the astonishment which I think we all feel that there was no reference at all in the gracious Speech to this most vital subject, probably the most burning topic of any with the greater part of the population.
If there is space in the gracious Speech for such matters as cattle grids—I do not underestimate the importance of cattle grids, but I think they have what I might call a somewhat limited importance—surely there might have been room for some reference to the housing position. It is a very astonishing thing. Possibly the very glowing promises made on this subject at the time of the last Election, and the even more glowing and binding promises made at a later date by the present Minister of Health, have proved such a boomerang that the Government feel that this is a subject that is better left alone, especially as the Minister who proved such a disastrous failure on this particular aspect of his activities in the last Parliament has been left in control. But the British people will not want this subject left alone. The lists of those who are waiting for houses, as I found in every great town I visited during the election, are still lengthening. They are not getting shorter, they are getting longer, and the people want desperately to know what the Government propose to do, both in the towns and in the countryside.
49 A vivid limelight was thrown—it was practically the only information we did get from the gracious Speech—on the Government's intentions with regard to the agricultural industry. I must confess that personally I was delighted to hear this portion of the Speech. I hope and think that it means that the Government intend to continue the policy of guaranteed markets and prices which was initiated in the days of the National Government.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
Certainly it was not initiated by this Government it was the policy of Mr. Hudson in the days of the National Government. That is all I wanted to make clear. If that is so, we certainly shall not oppose that policy if it is carried out in a reasonable and practical manner. But as all of us who are connected with it know, a prosperous agriculture means also the building of new rural houses and the reconditioning of existing ones. We shall wait to know the Government's policy with regard to this, and also their policy with regard to the towns. These are all matters which, as I have already explained, will be more fully explored at a later stage by my noble friend Lord Llewellin. But I say now, that I hope both this Mouse and the country will have some snore satisfactory explanation than they have had as yet for the extraordinary omission from the gracious Speech of any reference to housing.
My Lords, I have come almost to the end of what I have to say. I recognise, as I have already said, that there are many spheres of public policy on which I have not even touched. I have devoted my remarks, first to the question of international peace, which in my view transcends all others at the present time and, secondly, to the question, which comes only second to it, of the Government's attitude to further measures of socialisation in this country. I think it will be agreed that both these questions are of cardinal importance, for both touch very nearly the vital issue of whether this country is to be able to retain those essential freedoms on which, in our view, the survival of true civilisation depends. So far as Socialism is concerned, what 50 has happened, so far as I see it, is that by their vote a month ago the British people have asked for, and have gained, a certain breathing space. But they will wish to know, as we wish to know, before the next Election comes, what is the true policy of the Labour Party with regard to Socialism.
Is it that policy which has been supported in writings and speeches by such members as Mr. Strachey and Mr. Shinwell—that is to say, a policy which so far as I can see, differs very little from Communism? Or is it the policy which was expounded with such persuasive force and moderation yesterday by the noble Lords, Lord Crook and Lord Williams, which, if I may say so, is something very much milder? We know where the Prime Minister stands. He has stated it with crystal clarity in a book which I had the pleasure of reading the other day called The Labour Party in Perspective. I believe that he wrote the book some time ago, and it has lately been republished. To his credit be it said that, so far as I know, he has never deviated from the views he expressed in that book. I gather, from reading it, that to the Prime Minister all the evils of the present time spring from a single source. I will quote his words:The cause is the pr irate ownership of the means of life; the remedy is public owner ship.To this apparently, so far as I can make out, the Prime Minister makes no exception. All the major industries, including land, are to be owned and controlled by the State. Smaller enterprises may be allowed to continue for some time, possibly for some considerable time, but not permanently. Is that the policy on which the right honourable gentleman and his Party, and all noble Lords opposite, have embarked—the construction of a huge State machine which is to embrace all the activities of our lives? If that is their policy, if they have no modifications to make to that policy, am afraid the prospect before us is pretty formidable. We in this House, as your Lordships know, never indulge in merely factious opposition—I think it is fair to say this—to any measures, by whatever Government they may be produced. We always examine those measures fairly and, so far as we can, objectively. But we do regard ourselves, as in the past, as the custodians of the individual rights and liberties of 51 the British people; and for those we will always stand, whatever the consequences.
From that particular position of comparative detachment which inevitably attaches to a Second Chamber, I think I may therefore fairly appeal to all Parties alike, and especially to noble Lords opposite, to consider the position into which it appears to me this country is drifting. If the point of view which was so clearly and frankly expressed by the Prime Minister in his book really actuates the Labour Party as a whole, if that is to be the character of their policy, then I repeat, it seems to me that the outlook is pretty grim. It means that the cleavage between the Parties in Parliament will be so deep that it may well become difficult, if not impossible, for Parliamentary democracy as we understand it, to function at all. The difference between the Parties will not be merely, as in the past, one of method or of peace, or the route by which you reach your objective; it may well be one of a difference as to the ultimate goal they are seeking to reach. That is a very different thing, because if there is to be a change in Governments, perhaps every five years—or more frequently—it will be impossible to switch over each time to a completely different objective. That is a fact which I beg noble Lords opposite to take into consideration.
We must all recognise that it would be impossible, even if it were desirable—and personally I do not think it is desirable —that we should go back to where we were in 1939, In my view, we must all, to whatever Party we belong, look forward to a more closely integrated world, with all the consequences, international and domestic, that that involves. But that does not mean that the pendulum need necessarily swing over to something that differs very little from State dictatorship. By some manner of means, as I understand it, the essential liberties both of individual nations and of individual citizens must be preserved. For as Professor George Trevelyan—I suppose the greatest of living historians—has said in his recent book:Where there is nothing with independent life outside the State machine, civilisation must lose all power of healthy growth.52 My Lords, if this country is to survive, it must not be a mere assemblage of innumerable interlocking cogs in a vast State machine. It must be a society of free men working 'together for the common good. That has always been the British way of life; that is the British tradition for which I had always supposed all Parties alike stood. It is, I would submit at the beginning of this new Parliament, to the task of ensuring that this way of life continues in the future that we must all, in whatever part of the House we sit, devote our energies—all that is in us—in the difficult and testing years that he ahead.
§ 3.30 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
My Lords, the noble Marquess has covered a very wide field, and has given to your Lordships an address of deep interest which has been listened to with close attention. I do not propose to follow him by endeavouring to make any such general survey. My noble friend Lord Layton, who was Vice-President of the Assembly of the Council of Europe, will speak to-morrow, and will deal with the European situation and possibly with other matters of international import. For myself, I propose to occupy your Lordships' attention, if I may, with only two points: one—and I shall speak very briefly upon it—the atom bomb, and the other, with which I am afraid I shall have to deal at greater length, the political situation as it is left in this country as a result of the recent General Election.
As to the atom bomb, which arouses such world-wide, deeply anxious attention, my noble friend the Earl of Perth and I drafted a Resolution embodying a somewhat different line of approach, if that should be necessary, and placed it on the Order Paper of your Lordships' House shortly before the Dissolution, and our right honourable and honourable friends in the House of Commons placed a similar Resolution on the Order Paper there. That Resolution was not intended in any way as a substitute for the efforts that are now being made at the United Nations to establish a universal system of prohibition of the use and control of the production of atom bombs. That is clearly a right aim to be pursued. Our proposal is meant to be merely one of a second best character if the United Nations aim is not 53 attained. The fact remains that for three years most intensive efforts have been made by the United Nations along many different lines of approach to reach an agreement for the prohibition and control of atomic weapons, but up to now failure has been complete and nothing has been agreed to. Fresh efforts are now being made—whether they take the form suggested by Mr. Winston Churchill or any other form—to arrive, at long last, at some understanding. All of us should wish such efforts well from the depths of our hearts.
But if they, too, fail, what then? Is the world to he left cowering in fear against the moment when, through some, outbreak of war, atom bombs—uranium bombs or hydrogen bombs—begin to fall, used first by one side or another and then replied to by their enemies? Is nothing to be done to prevent that? Failing some unanimous and comprehensive agreement, our Resolution was intended to draw attention to a document now almost completely forgotten—a document signed at. Geneva in 1925 to prohibit the use of poisonous gases and bacteriological methods of warfare. That document vas signed by over forty nations, including all the principal Powers with the melancholy exception of Russia. And, in fact, poison gas and bacteriological methods were not used in the Second World War. I am under no illusion as to the reason for that. It was not only that the nations had given their signatures to undertakings that use should not be made of these weapons—those undertakings could not be relied upon, certainly not in the case of such a State as Nazi Germany—but that they were afraid of reprisals; and when, in the course of the war, it appeared that Germany might be about to attack Russia with them, the Government here gave a stern warning to Germany that if she did so we should retaliate by the use of poison gas against the German armies. In fact, the Protocol of 1925 was observed throughout the years of that war.
Our proposal now is that, failing anything better and more comprehensive, a similar prohibition should be directed against these other weapons; in other words, that these other weapons should be simply added to the Protocol which is already in existence, with the reservation that while all the Powers undertake 54 not to use atom bombs, should anyone break his agreement the others would be authorised to use the same weapon in any reprisal. If that were done, there would, at all events, be some check upon the various Powers the moment war broke out, and anyone who broke his undertaking would have against him, even if for that reason alone, the whole of the moral conscience of mankind. However, we are not putting that Resolution down on the Paper again now, because we think it right to await the result of the further efforts that are being made, and it might be though that we wished this proposal to be considered in competition with or as an alternative to the wider proposal. That is not our desire. What we are suggesting is merely a secondary course to which the nations may later on be compelled to have resort, following a continuance of the (headlock that has already lasted for three years.
For the rest, I propose, as I have said, to devote myself to the political position of this democracy in the light of the vote of the people at the General Election. It casts a great responsibility upon all citizens, particularly upon the members of both Houses of Parliament and, above all, upon the political Parties and their Leaders. The situation to be examined is twofold. There is, first, the immediate Parliamentary position during these coming weeks, and, secondly, there is the later situation that will arise at the next Election and afterwards. The question there is whether the time has not come for a fresh review of the whole working of our Party system. As to the situation in the Legislature at the moment, there is no stable and effective majority in the House of Commons. Yet the nation's affairs cannot be left to drift with no hand upon the wheel. World events will not wait upon our political convenience. Decisions have to be taken in grave matters of State, week by week, day by day, and sometimes hour by hour. Also, it is urgently and immediately necessary that financial provision should be made, in accordance with annual practice, for carrying on the administration of the country for all rational purposes.
There is, I think, general agreement that it would he a profound error for a second General Election to take place immediately—for the Government either to resign or recommend a dissolution, for 55 that dissolution to be accepted by the Crown and for us to go to the country again for a different decision—because possibly the only result would be to get exactly the same reply or one making no very effective difference. I think it was the unanimous opinion in the days immediately following the Election that the Government were right to announce that they proposed, for the time being at all events, to continue in office. That decision not having been disputed by the Opposition, or indeed in any quarter, involves obligations upon both sides. It involves an obligation on the Opposition not to seek to overthrow the Government here and now, unless, of course, some fresh issue of immediate and vital importance should arise. Since the Opposition think there ought not to be a General Election immediately, and since the Government have a majority for the time being, however small, in the House of Commons, it follows that the Opposition ought not to seek by a vote of censure or otherwise to compel what is contrary to their own desire—namely, the continuance of the present Government in office for the time being in the existing electoral situation.
On the other hand, an obligation rests upon the Government to recognise that they ought to bring in no measures which would arouse keen controversy and which would bring to the surface underlying differences between the Parties. I think one conclusion should be drawn by the House of Commons—namely, that the Government ought not to resign or dissolve except on a vote of censure or its equivalent. I thought of elaborating that theme in some little detail, because it is one to which I have attached importance in my political life, but then I considered that for suggestions to be made in the House of Lords as to what should be the proper procedure in another place might be taken amiss in that quarter. But perhaps I may be allowed to make a quotation from the Report of a Select Committee of the House of Commons which dealt with this very matter, and possibly I am not disqualified from doing so by the fact that the Chairman of that Committee was myself. It was the Select Committee on National Expenditure which was set up towards the end of the First World War and which reported at intervals in 1917 and 1918. In the 1918 56 Report, reference was made to a proposal that Estimates Committees of the House of Commons should be set up and opportunity should be given for consideration in the House of the recommendations of those Estimates Committees, which would make a careful survey of proposed expenditure before the expenditure was incurred. An Estimates Committee was afterwards set up. It was also recognised that that procedure would be futile for the purpose in view, which was to restore a live financial control by the House of Commons, if any proposal which came from those Committees was to be dealt with in the ordinary way and if any defeat of the Government upon any estimate was to be regarded as in the nature of a vote of censure. The Report speaks ofthe present convention … which introduces into every Division on a proposal of the Government of the day—however unimportant, however remote from broad considerations of national policy—the question of confidence or want of confidence in that Government. It is plain that if, on a Division on some minor economy in a departmental estimate, a majority adverse to the Government is to be regarded as a censure, even as a reason for its resignation, or for subjecting the country to a General Election, the smaller issue must be completely eclipsed by the larger; and that a decision on the merits of the particular question must become impossible.The Select Committee recommended—and my recollection is that it wag unanimous, but I have not verified that—thatIt should be established as the practice of Parliament that Members should vote freely upon motions for reductions made in pursuance of the recommendations of the Estimates Committees, and that the carrying of such a motion against the Government of the day, should not be taken to imply that it no longer possessed the confidence of the House.Those Committees would not have dealt with matters of policy and therefore the restriction in the terms of reference in those Committees is somewhat narrow, but the principle, I venture to suggest, should be established not only with regard to Estimates but generally. It is not only a matter of the needs of the present Parliament; it should be established for always that if a change of Government should be brought about by a decision of a legislative assembly, it should be a conscious and deliberate decision aimed at that object and not a kind of byproduct of some accidental vote in the House of Commons. This would at all 57 events give some stability to the present Parliament until the time was ripe, whenever that might be, to appeal again to the electorate, so that this Parliament, precarious as its life necessarily is, may do some good for national purposes in various directions.
We remember reading in the history books of our youth of a Parliament in the time of James I which sat for only a few weeks from April to June, 1614, and which came into conflict with the King on the question of the imposition of customs duties by him without Parliamentary sanction. That Parliament insisted upon the redress of grievances before the granting of supply, and it was dissolved before it had passed a single Statute. It earned the nickname in history of "the Addled Parliament." Although positively produced nothing at all, negatively it achieved a great deal in the development of the British Constitution. But we do not wish the present Parliament to he a second "Addled Parliament." and if it does not endure for any long time, it may well endure for some months and I trust it may hatch out a few eggs of possible nutritive value.
As for the general situation apart from the immediate Parliamentary situation, the question which arises in all men's minds is, What should be the issues at the next General Election and how ought they to be and how are they likely to be dealt with? I confess that, after a public life which has now extended for more than sixty years, I have a greater feeling of anxiety at the present time than I have ever had in all the vicissitudes of our politics during that long time. That anxiety is not due only to the financial and economic difficulties of the country, nor yet to the present Parliamentary deadlock, but to something even more fundamental and more lasting. It is that this Election confirms what was gradually becoming clearer and clearer—namely, that Britain is a divided nation. The Election proves that there is an almost complete solidarity of class-conscious voters. We find that over almost the whole of the industrial districts there is a majority for one Party; not only majorities in almost all the seats, but majorities numbered in thousands and not seldom in tens of thousands. There is evidently a great body of organised class-conscious voters who have no confidence that 'their interests will be 58 safe in the hands of any Government which is not substantially within their own control.
On the other hand, there are vast stretches of the country—they are most striking when we examine the election map—and particular districts in many towns and suburbs, where the agricultural interests and people of moderate and middle-class incomes vote with almost similar majorities and persistence for another Party. They undoubtedly feel oppressed by high prices coupled with high taxes, and they consider that their whole way of life is threatened by the adoption of the Marxist formula of the common ownership of tile means of production, distribution and exchange, which is proclaimed in the Constitution of the Labour Party. These great movements of mass opinion overwhelm and sweep away all minor considerations. There used in the old days to be many local considerations which differentiated one constituency from another, and often personal considerations and the personalities and qualifications of individual candidates played a large part. One member would hold his seat for a constituency for many years through all the vicissitudes of succeeding Elections. That has to a great extent disappeared, largely as a result of the immense increase in the electorate. At the first Election at which I stood as a candidate, as long ago as the year 1895, the average number of electors in the constituencies was under 10,000. It is now over 50,000–a fivefold increase within a single lifetime.
One fact emerges clearly from the Election which has just taken place—namely, that the difference in the composition of the House of Commons is due mainly to the fact that the Conservative Party have been able to mobilise their reserves. A very large middle-class and lower middle-class vote, which did not express itself at the previous Election, has been stirred into activity by the economic situation, and by the actions or inactions of the Government during the last five years. In 1935 the Conservative poll was 11,750,000. In 1945 it had dropped to 10,000,000. But in 1950 it recovered to a little above what it was before, and it is now 12,500,000. The fact remains—and, as I say, has been brought out more vividly than ever—that we are a divided nation. It is a hundred years since Disraeli wrote 59 his book, Sibyl or the Two Nations, in which he warned the country of the danger of the division then between extreme poverty and luxury. Now the warning still prevails in the division that takes place, and which is likely to endure. If there is another Election it may give a majority of twenty one way or the other, or even of fifty one way or the other. But the fact remains that there is this division, which may have most grave national effects in any crisis, economic or international, and which puts a great strain upon our democratic government.
The House will forgive me if I express frankly an opinion of my own, which may be very unpalatable. I feel convinced that the Conservative Party cannot govern this country effectively so long as they are faced by the declared political opposition of the great majority of the working class; and the Labour Party cannot govern this country effectively so long as they are determined to nationalise our major industries without the express approval of the people. For those reasons we are now at a deadlock. If another Election is held this year or next year, and the issues and the method of voting are the same, I believe the result will be almost exactly the same, because this decision by these millions of voters is quite deliberate—they thought hard. As one went about addressing great meetings in different parts of the country, and watching the audiences, one could almost sec the nation thinking. It has been quite deliberate. If you ask for another verdict from the same jury, you will get the same result. I remember well the two Elections in January and December of 1910, on the same issue and with the same electorate. The result of the first was that our Government received a majority of 124, and after all the turmoil, excitement and controversy of a second Election the majority was 126.
The issue has been put to the jury, and the jury have disagreed. You can have the case tried again; but if you have the same case tried again, and by the same jury, you will get a similar disagreement. Such a thing would discredit our judicial system. If it happened that again in a few months we had all the expense and expenditure of energy of another election, and the same number of millions voted, and if instead of a majority of 10 for the 60 Labour Party, there were a majority of 10, 20 or 30 for the Conservative Party, the situation would be fundamentally the same, and democracy would be discredited. We have to remember the results in many continental countries between the two wars, when democracy fell in one State after another, until almost all the Continent of Europe fell under the domination of dictators, or under some form of totalitarian government, simply because democracy was inefficient and ineffective, and they had Parliaments with changing majorities and feeble, ineffective and precarious Governments. There is, in fact, a fissure in the very foundations on which the structure of our democracy rests.
The whole question is centred at this moment on the nationalisation of the steel industry. This is the first time that the Marxian formula has been put into effect, or an attempt has been made to put it into effect, in a matter which arouses strong opposition. There have been a number of measures of nationalisation. We of the Liberal Party have supported several, and others we did not oppose—we were reluctant to agree, but we did not view the proposals with any great animosity. But in the case of the steel industry it is different. The opposition is intense, and feeling runs very deep. It is the test case.
If iron and steel is nationalised, then there is no reason why the Government should not go on to shipbuilding, shipping, cotton and wool, and gradually establish the Socialist State. This grave issue of iron and steel was left by Parliament to be decided by the electorate. The Act was held up; it is now the law of the land, but its operation was suspended until after the General Election. What happens? The General Election comes about; the Government say that if they are returned to power they will put that Act into force; they go throughout the country, speaking to the people; they address them on the radio, and yet it is an extraordinary thing that the steel question is most carefully kept well in the background. I have had a search made through the broadcasts given on behalf of His Majesty's Government. There were three pre-election broadcasts by Government speakers and five during the Election, making a total of eight. I asked what exactly was said about the Steel Bill in 61 the Government broadcasts, and the reply of this search, which was carefully verified, was that not ore of them made a single reference to iron and steel nationalisation. There were some general expressions about monopoly being brought under public control, and words of that sort, but the term "iron and steel nationalisation," or "Iron and Steel Bill," or "Steel Bill" never once occurred in any one of those eight broadcasts.
§ SEVERAL NOBLE LORDS: No.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
The noble Lord must not say that. I am coming to that in a moment. I do not appeal to the Labour Party by saying that if they persist in this they will certainly be defeated at the next Election—that everyone will combine against them. I do not know what will be the issue at the next Election. I appeal to them on quite a different ground. They are good democrats, many of them well trained in a good Liberal school, and it is in that that they differ by the breadth of heaven from the Communists, who believe in obtaining power by violent revolution or by subversive intrigues, and then hold it by force and use it through tyranny. That is not the view of the Labour Party, and they have dealt with the Communists with unwavering courage, firmness and consistency, and with success. It is not only due to the common sense of the people but also to the firm attitude of the Labour Party that the Communists have been practically eliminated from our politics. As a result of the Election, it is shown that they command the support of only.3 of 1 per cent. of the electorate—that is to say, out of every 1,000 voters, three are Communists and 997 are not.
The Labour Party, on the other hand, recognise the authority of the people, and they should not wish, even if they could, to carry Socialism by a side wind—although some of their intellectuals would have them do that very thing. I would put it to the noble Viscount the Leader of the House and to his colleagues, whether they think it would be right to gather the votes of the people 62 in millions on the plea of the rights of Labour, the ideals for which the trade unionists and social reformers are fighting—antagonism, if you will, to Toryism and fear of unemployment under the domination of big business or finance or Whatever phrases they care to use—and, having secured that power, use it not only to promote those objects but to nationalise iron and steel. Do they think it would be right to do that? In other words, do they assert that this Election has given them a mandate to proceed with the nationalisation of iron and steel? I ask that question specifically of the Government: Do they think they have the moral right, drawn from the people at this Election, to go on with that particular proposal? Every vote given for a Conservative candidate or for a Liberal candidate could fairly be considered a vote against the nationalisation of iron and steel. There were 15,000,000 of them. The Labour vote was 13,000,000, and certainly not all of them favoured the nationalisation of iron and steel. Many had doubts and would be much happier if the Government dropped it. No one can tell how many they may be, but I think we can say that 13,000,000 is the maximum of the possible supporters and 15,000,000 is certainly the figure for those who oppose.
I was amazed, therefore, as was the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, when reading in to-day's newspapers that the Prime Minister yesterday said this on the matter:There is nothing to be done in the matter immediately"—referring to the fact that it was suspended until October 1–but that Statute is on the Statute Book and our purpose is to give effect to Acts passed by Parliament.But that is regarding all the events which have taken place since then as though they were irrelevant. What happened to that Bill in the late Parliament was that the House of Lords did not throw it out but inserted a suspensory clause which was recognised to be put there in order that the matter might be dealt with at the General Election. There was no magic about the date October 1. Everyone said that the House of Lords passed this Act in order that it might go to the people. When it has gone to the people and the people have given an answer, 63 you cannot then come and say: "Well, it is already an Act of Parliament, and therefore our intention is to put it into effect." That is not right dealing. The Government did accept that postponement. They knew that if they did not accept it, the House of Lords would certainly insist upon their Amendment, the Bill would be thrown out and would have to be passed again under the procedure of the Parliament Act. In order to avoid that they accepted the Amendment that the Bill should be suspended until the people had spoken. They cannot now say: "Well, no matter what the people say in answer to that question, it is irrelevant and should not be taken into account."
No one can defend the position of this Act on the ground that it is essential for the general policy of full employment and therefore should be carried out as a necessary consequence of that, because no one can contend that steel production has been flagging, that there has been unemployment or that the relations between management and labour are so bad that the industry has to be taken out of the hands of its present managers. No one can say that, nor would they say that the employers had adopted a recalcitrant attitude in carrying out the general policy of the Government with regard to imports and exports, necessaries before luxuries and the like. They have been fully cooperative. Therefore, there is no urgency in this matter from the standpoint of full employment. It may be true that there may be monopolistic features in the industry that ought to be changed, but there are many ways of dealing with monopolies apart from crude nationalisation.
I must apologise for keeping the House so long on these points, but they are vital at this moment. In making my appeal to the Government not to proceed with this measure, I do not ask them to abandon the whole of their policy with regard to steel. If they say it is monopolistic and its organisation ought to be changed and there ought to be measures of protection to break rings, control prices and the like, I agree. Let that be examined. They themselves introduced a Bill with general consent which was passed as recently as 1948–the Monopoles and Restrictive Practices (Inquiry and Control) Act. Because it aroused no controversy and 64 was passed by general consent, it has been ignored by the nation and is already forgotten. I suggest to the Government that they should bring that Act into the very forefront, They should amend it slightly so as to make its operation more swift and easy. At present it has to go through a bottleneck of one Commission with six to ten members. We want a number of commissions sitting simultaneously. Let those commissions examine the steel industry, the cement and sugar industries and sections of the chemical industry, wherever it is thought there are injurious monopolies—as there undoubtedly are. We Liberals have been urging for twenty years the control of monopolies, and the Conservatives in their booklet The Right Road said that they would use to the full the Monopolies Act, Here we have a general agreement. Let the Government drop nationalisation and use as a weapon of their policy the Monopolies Act, 1948.
I ask further in this connection, why should they persist in this policy of nationalisation, which is not desired by this country, when Socialist Parties in all the other countries whom they have been accustomed to use as examples are not doing so? In Belgium, Holland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark there are Socialist Parties either in power or forming part of coalitions. None of them is trying to press on with the nationalising of industries such as the steel industry. The only country where nationalisation has been pressed is Australia, and that is with regard to the banks. The people were against it. The Labour Government there went into action, nailing to their mast the nationalisation of banks, and their ship was sunk at the first broadside.
The Government here have themselves, very wisely, modified their policy from time to time. The nationalisation of banks was in their immediate policy as proposed to the country in the General Elections of 1931 and 1935. They made a forthright declaration that if they were returned to power they would nationalise the banks. But they did not include that proposal in 1945, or in 1950. The nationalisation of land was always regarded as in the very forefront of Socialist policy. Now, the Minister of Agriculture, Mr. Williams, has declared that they are not proposing to nationalise the land. Why should the Government 65 not adopt the same attitude with regard to steel? I said to the noble Viscount the Leader of the House, when the Steel Nationalisation Bill came before us, on behalf of the Liberal Party in this House, and I think. I can say in the country, that the Steel Bill was the parting of the ways. Until then the Liberal Party had regarded with a great deal of sympathy the general measures of this Government. Some of these measures we have been advocating for years. Some were of the greatest importance and value to the country. But by introducing and insisting on the Steel Bill, the Government have driven away that body of middle opinion —whatever it may be worth—in the country. If the Labour Party had not brought Marxist formulas into their constitution for the last thirty years, there need have been no rift between Liberalism and the Labour Party, and there might have been a strong united Government of the Left in this country. If so, the history of the years between the wars would have been very different and, I think, much happier. It might be so still in the future.
I would appeal again now for one other consideration which I hope may be taken into account before the next General Election comes, and that is in regard to the system of voting. I have detained the House so long that I cannot elaborate that now. At present we compel millions of good citizens not to vote for what they want to have done but to vote only against what they want not to have done. There are certainly many millions who would have wished to vote Liberal but who were impressed by the argument of the split vote and the wasted vote, and who therefore did not vote Liberal. The Gallup Polls that have been taken indicate that probably three out of four who expressed their desire to vote Liberal voted Conservative or Labour in order to keep out the opposite Party. By no means did they all vote Conservative; many voted Labour. The Liberal Party advocate proportional representation, but would accept the alternative vote rather than leave things as they are. I would remind your Lordships that in 1931, when a Labour Government were in power, a Bill passed the House of Commons establishing the alternative vote. It passed its Second Reading in 66 the House of Lords. Important Amendments were put in, but before they could be considered by the House of Commons the then Government—the Government of Ramsay MacDonald—fell, and all pending legislation was wiped out. The fact remains that in 1931 the House of Commons passed, and the House of Lords did not reject but only limited its application, a Bill to establish the alternative vote in future elections.
As to what the attitude of the Liberal Party would be in another General Election, it is obviously impossible to say anything until it is known what will be the policy of the other Parties and what will be the system of voting under which the Election will take place. If Socialism is still the issue and the Steel Bill the main test, then one course might be necessary; if not, then another course would be possible. If the present system of voting is adopted one course will be expected; if not, another course will be pursued. Let us also remember that politics are greatly influenced by economics; that economic events have a profound influence on political issues. In the next few months we may have mounting prices, growing unemployment, insecure sterling, even a third crisis and another devaluation, all of which would necessarily have an effect upon the electorate. No one can tell beforehand. If there is a catastrophic fall in the position, then the suggestion made on a previous occasion by the noble Lord, Lord Elton—and on which I believe he is going to speak to-day—may come to the forefront. If there were such a catastrophe as I have suggested, then there might have to be a Coalition Government, and no Party would be able to refuse to take part in it. I know that a Coalition Government is open to grave objections, to which I will not refer now.
Of one thing, however, we can be quite sure, and that is the pressing and immediate duty, in the presence of these economic difficulties, to strive to arrive at the greatest common factor in the country and in Parliament in support of the Government for any right and proper measures that might be adopted to face the immediate and urgent economic and financial difficulties. Now that the Communists have been eliminated there is no one so base in this country as to seek to hinder or to sabotage any effort of 67 any Government, no matter what its political complexion, in order to further through the resulting collapse and confusion their own sectional interests and profit. The Government can surely rely on every section and every member of this House, regardless of political differences, to support them in all measures they take in home and international affairs in order to relieve the nation from its pressing and urgent economic perils.
§ 4.18 p.m.
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF YORK
My Lords, in view of the large number of noble Lords who desire to speak I will compress my remarks into as short a period as I can. The General Election has resulted in a very remarkable and anxious position. I agree with what the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, has said about the anxiety of the position. The country by its vote has shown itself divided, at any rate for the time being, into two sections. It is the Mother of Parliaments which will really be on trial during these next months. If it is impossible to carry on the Government of the King, if there are needless difficulties, and if a lack of restraint is shown on both sides, it will mean that democracy as we have been accustomed to it in this country will be brought into disrepute throughout the world. It is right, as the noble Viscount has just said, that we should seek to find the largest common factor during these months on which the Parties in Parliament might work together and thus help to bring the whole nation together. No doubt it is with this in view that some noble Lords would advocate a Coalition Government. The idea of a Coalition Government is admirable, but as a realist I am bound to say that I feel that it is not in human nature to accept a Coalition Government at the present time. During these last weeks the two Parties have been explaining to the electorate that one Party is white and the other Party is black; and the electorate would find it very disconcerting if they were suddenly told that all the Parties are really grey. The time may come when a Coalition Government will once again be necessary, but in my opinion it is not within the bounds of practical politics to attempt to form a Coalition at the present time.
That does not, however, stand in the way of the two Parties' acting together 68 on a very large number of matters, so that the Government may be a stable Government in the councils of the world. There are many matters on which I believe there is general agreement. I want to mention only three matters where I believe that the different Parties ought to act together. The first is in bringing home to the whole country the reality of the economic crisis. In recent discussions that has rather gone to the background, but the economic crisis which is impending is a terrible reality, and the mass of the people of the country do not yet understand what the danger is. It is true that remarkable progress has been made towards recovery, and I was very glad that one of the noble Lords who spoke yesterday from the Government Benches quoted that remarkable report from Mr. Kenney, in which he told his own Government how striking progress in this country had been. There was one sentence in that report which was not quoted, a very short sentence. It was:British economy hangs in a delicate balance.If that balance weighs down on the wrong side, through lock-outs, strikes or interruption of work, it may have the most disastrous results.
I wish that the leaders of both Parties would join in some statement to the people of the country, bringing home to them the gravity of the position. Unless the economic problem is solved in the next few years, we shall have the darkening shadow of unemployment spreading over all the land, with all the unhappiness and misery and frustration which will follow from it. There is—and I am speaking from knowledge—widespread scepticism about the danger of the economic crisis, and I think it can be brought home to the people of the country only by the leaders of both Parties. Without committing themselves to specific remedies they could bring home to the people the reality of the crisis, which can be overcome only by self-sacrifice, restraint and hard work.
I will turn now to another subject on which there should be united action. I agree with the noble Marquess when he expressed surprise that there was no mention in the gracious Speech of housing. This subject had been mentioned in speech after speech in the country. 69 Manifesto after manifesto on both sides had stressed the importance of this problem. I am not criticising the Government for their past record on this matter. The building and the making habitable of 1,000,000 houses was a remarkable achievement, especially in view of the very great difficulties which the Government had to face—I am thinking chiefly of the shortage of material, timber and so on. But I am distressed and disappointed at finding no kind of statement of what is to be done to relieve the recognised continued shortage of houses and the continuation of the slums. The hard fact of the position is this: that the slums in England to-day are as bad as they were in 1939. In some ways, they are worse. There is overcrowding, there is misery, and I believe that a good deal of this juvenile delinquency which causes us such anxiety is due to the fact that many of these homes are overcrowded, and anything like paternal discipline is almost impossible. This question of the slums and overcrowding one of the most urgent in front of the country.
One of the most perplexing problems is how to draw the people away from the slums. It is impossible to abolish the slums, unless there are houses to which the people can go. Again and again I am told that people who have the lower wages cannot afford die higher rents. On the other hand, it is true to say that there are a number of people who could afford higher rents, and who are now able, because of tie subsidies, to occupy the houses they do occupy. What is necessary is a review of the whole subject, and of the whole question of subsidies. Some readjustment is necessary, so that subsidies now paid in certain directions are removed in order to help the more poorly paid worker to obtain the kind of home which he requires. It is a large, intricate and difficult subject. I hope very much that the Government will be able to tell us they will examine this matter, possibly by means cal a special Committee or Commission, to see what best can be done to restore some kind of order in the quite extraordinary state of chaos now existing in the rents of houses.
The third and last matter on which I want to able for united co-operation is that to which reference has already been made by both the speakers from the Front Benches opposite—the question of the atomic and the hydrogen bomb. We 70 have discussed this matter on more than one occasion in this House, but since we last discussed it the question has become much more grave. We now know that Russia possesses the atomic bomb, and we now know that a much more deadly weapon, in the shape of the hydrogen bomb, is being made in the United States, and possibly also in Russia. If the atomic bomb can slay its tens of thousands, the hydrogen bomb will quite literally slay its millions. Never has the human race been in such danger as it is at the present time. It is necessary that men of all Parties should endeavour to find some solution, some method by which we can guard humanity from this terrible danger which now threatens it.
I agree that in the first case, the appeal should be to the United Nations Organisation, but the United Nations Organisation has not filled all of us with complete confidence. It has not succeeded in solving any major crisis. It works very slowly, and there is the veto, used by Russia in a way in which it was not intended, which has impeded its work time after time. Therefore if no agreement seems to be possible through the United Nations Organisation, I support most strongly the suggestion which has been made, that a direct appeal, with the full approval of the United States, should be made to Russia. Let any agreement which is reached be safeguarded in every kind of way, but it is worth trying to make a direct appeal to Russia rather than to drift, as we are now drifting, to catastrophe. We may find the attempt at negotiation with Russia is fruitless but anything is worth trying. I hope very much that, if such an attempt is made at negotiation, it will be made not only by the representatives of the Government but that the Government will call in the leaders, Mr. Churchill and others, to represent the whole nation in approaching Russia on this matter.
If that fails, I agree with what has already been said. We cannot stop there. It would then be necessary to try to reach some arrangement with the other nations willing to bind themselves with a solemn covenant to act at once against any nation which uses these bombs. More than that, if no agreement is reached, if no safeguards are secured, it will be necessary for the Government to come forward with a much more comprehensive scheme of 71 national defence than they have at the present time. If we are really to be threatened with ruin (for it means nothing less) by the atomic bomb in the next few years, all our ideas of civil defence will have to be transformed, and I fear vast sums of money will have to be spent in the defence of the nation. I do not want to dwell on that in any detail, but I would add that I hope we shall make it quite plain that in no circumstances will we be the first to use these bombs. Civilisation will not be worth preserving if it is to be preserved only by the massacre of millions of people. I cannot say how strongly I feel about the urgency of this matter. It is either agreement or catastrophe. I trust that the Government will not be content with a leisurely approach to the United Nations, or a leisurely discussion of the matter, in the hope that good will may at some time appear; but that they will give this problem priority and do everything in their power, with the full assistance of the members of the Opposition, to find some means by which the world can be saved from the ghastly catastrophe which may otherwise fall upon it.
§ 4.32 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
My Lords, I do not propose to follow the most reverend Primate in the very interesting observations he made on the economic and the housing questions, because I wish to confine my observations as closely as I can to two other points. On the third point—namely, the question of the atomic bomb—I shall have to say a word or two, but I think it really is a part of the larger question: how we are to preserve peace. I will deal with that in detail presently.
Of the two subjects I want to deal with, the first is an aspect of the recent Election which is of very great importance though it does not really touch the Party aspect in any way. The point is the exclusion from the present House of Commons of all Independent Members. That is a very important matter, as I shall venture to urge upon the House. It is quite true that most of them, though not all, were persons who had adopted a Communist or a semi-Communist point of view; but they were excluded not on the ground of their extreme views but because they did not support the policy of 72 either of the great Parties. To put it crudely, they were opposed not because they were "Red" but because they were not "Blue" or "Yellow." It was, in fact, the action of the organisations that excluded them. I have not a word to say against those organisations as such; they are admirable and they are very ably directed. No doubt they have used arguments of a Party character, but I think of a reasonably fair character. The fact remains, however, that without the support of the machine—and that means not only the local machine but the central organisation—no one can enter the House of Commons. I gather that in some cases the candidate has been satisfactory to the local organisation, but word has come from London that he was objected to or, to use the phrase that is now common, that he was a "deviationist from the authorised policy," and out he went.
That seems to me a very serious matter—much more serious than would at first appear. It is not a question of the effect on the individual candidates, although that, of course, is of great importance: but it is a tendency which has been growing, as I have ventured to urge in this House on previous occasions, for the last fifty years. I speak from personal knowledge of this subject. It was really because I was under some apprehension that I should find myself treated much as these Independent Members have been treated that I thought it was necessary for me to seek, and I did seek, political refuge in your Lordships' House, where at any rate I can be quite sure that I cannot be turned out because I advocate a view which is not popular with one side or the other. It may be said that the tendency to enforce regularity in the candidate is a natural one. That may be so. It is said that it is desirable because it makes for strong government. One thing is quite clear—namely, that it does make very much for the increase of the power of the Party leaders. That is quite true, because ultimately they control the machine and the machine ultimately controls the membership of the House of Commons. There is no doubt that the power of the Cabinet has increased greatly compared with that of Parliament. It has grown enormously in the last half century. That may be a good thing, but if it is to go on at the expense of the House of Commons, one result will 73 inevitably follow. If the only function of a Member of Parliament is understood to be to vote a Prime Minister into office and, through him, a Cabinet into power, and thenceforward to do as he is told and nothing else, the position will become much less attractive for the ordinary candidate. Rubber stamps are excellent things, but to be converted into one is a rather uninteresting future for a Member.
Is there not a danger that if this system continues to grow the quality of the Members of Parliament must deteriorate? It does net stop there. Since Cabinets are chosen mainly from Members of the House of Commons, ultimately there would be a deterioration in the personnel of the Cab nets. At any rate, in the very grave position of public affairs which undoubtedly we have reached—I entirely agree with what fell from the most reverend Primate just now as to the serious position in which we find ourselves—I think it is a matter for consideration whether we ought not to do something to prevent the deterioration of the most powerful section of Parliament in this country. This fact is remarkable: that for the first time in its history, so far as I can remember, there will not be a single Independent Member in the House of Commons. I agree that there will be a certain number of liberals, but they will not be independent; they will be dependent upon their organisation. And, indeed, there are very few of them; there is, I believe, only one in England, one in Scotland, one in the Orkneys, and about five or six in Wales. If they could all be regarded as independent it would still be a very small allowance, but in point of fact there is none who has stood as an Independent, going before constituents as they used to do and saying: "Here I ant. I am prepared, in general, to support such and such views, but you may rely upon me to vote as I think right on any serious and important question." No one does that, or can do that, now. That is a very serious matter and one, I suggest, which requires grave consideration.
Of course, I most heartily agree (and this is the second observation I want to make) that the present condition of affairs is extremely serious, particularly on the international side. I can be as short as I would wish to be about this, mainly because I find myself in complete agreement with what fell from the lips of my 74 noble relative, the Leader of the Opposition. I agree with every word he said on that subject. The times are unquestionably very dangerous. Every day we see in the newspapers some evidence of the growing tension that exists in Europe, particularly in that section of Europe, the South-East corner, from which so many storms have arisen in the past. The situation is extremely bad and dangerous. It is complicated by all kinds of religious and political difficulties and disturbances and, as the most reverend Primate has said, it is made infinitely worse and more dangerous to the public peace by the perfection of atomic and other weapons. It seems clear that, as he said, we now possess means by which the whole of civilisation can be destroyed, and the decision as to whether that should be done, apparently, may easily rest with a fanatical Government unrestrained by moral considerations. That is a perfectly uncoloured statement of the position in which we stand.
Some people think that this grave threat of danger can be effectively dealt with by some agreement that atomic: weapons shall not be used, or something of that kind, and by some international control of this new force. I am entirely in favour of every effort being made to secure such international agreement and control, but I say to the House, with such responsibility as have, that I am extremely sceptical as to the value of that protection. Attempts have often been made in time past to limit the ferocity of war, but with little success. Certainly, the last two wars have been as ruthless and as bloodthirsty as any in recent history. The truth is that a nation in danger of defeat or extinction will not hesitate to use any weapon which will avoid that result, and, whatever agreements are made, I shard be very doubtful whether under the stress of war of the kind that we know those agreements would stand so as to affect any nation's actual action. I venture to submit to the most reverend Primate, if he will allow me, that the only really effective remedy is the abolition of war. There is no other remedy that exists which, in my judgment, can he relied upon. To bring about that abolition is a formidable job, no doubt. I do not suggest to your Lordships that there is any immediate danger of what might, be called a Hitler war—that is, a war elaborately planned 75 to obtain the mastery of the world. But war may easily occur without any such plan. Indeed, the First World War was not a war that was elaborately planned beforehand; it was a war resulting from a course of policy which had gradually become more and more hostile and more and more intolerable to neighbouring States. That is the common way in which wars have begun.
There are quarrels going on at this moment, and threats are being made in different parts of the world. I have already alluded to threats in Europe, but they are perhaps more serious in South East Asia, and I saw that it was stated the other day that these threats are likely to be extended to Africa. Nations are beginning to say—indeed to shout—that this or that neighbour is behaving abominably, that something serious must be done, and so on. What is meant is that the only thing that can be done is to take steps causing pressure which will result, ultimately, in war. The only answer that has been suggested, and it is one to which I adhere myself, is to get all the law-abiding countries to agree that they will enforce peace by united action, so that any aggressor may know that the success of such a policy as his is out of the question. The point I want your Lordships now to consider is whether we have taken, and are taking, all the steps necessary. The most reverend Primate suggested just now that this was the kind of question on which we might have a general agreement. I agree that we might have a general agreement about policy with regard to atomic weapons, but we must go further than that; we must have a general agreement with regard to peace. So far as this country is concerned, I do not think there is any difficulty in securing that. We have made some attempts. There was Western Union, which was certainly a step in the right direction, and there was the Atlantic Pact, which was a considerable step in the same direction. That is the furthest we have gone, and—I am expressing my own, personal, view—although it is in the right direction it is only a step. It does not go far enough, and it does not by any means do everything that is required.
The first essentials of such a policy must be that it is clear and definite, so that everyone knows what he is in for, 76 and that the policy is supported by sufficient strength for the purpose of carrying it out. Are those conditions fulfilled? The Pact is formed on the lines of the old defensive treaties, as the Leader of the Opposition has mentioned. I have always regretted that, but it is not the main thing about which I feel anxious. Its declared object is not to maintain peace but to save its signatories from attack. No doubt if you save them all you maintain peace; but there is something in having the principle asserted in a document not only that you are going to save this country or that country but that it is the prime duty of every country that values its own reputation or existence to work for peace as a whole. The words actually used in the Atlantic Pact, as your Lordships know, are "armed attack." That is the only thing that is dealt with. There may be, so far as the Pact is concerned, a concentration of force on the border, any course of unfriendly actions, any fostering of internal sedition, any elaborate campaign of national slander; and none of these, so far as I read the document, would be directly forbidden by the Atlantic Pact. Yet they might all lead, and very probably would lead, to a breach of the peace.
More than that, is it quite clear that armed attack on one signatory is armed attack on all of them? That is to say, are they all bound to act because one of their number is attacked? If it is not an impertinence for me to say so, I should be very glad to have the opinion of the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor on this. I know that it has been declared that that is how this idea would work. I am nervous about that kind of answer with regard to a document of this kind. Is it quite clear that all nations would feel bound beforehand to take action of that kind? Is it quite certain, for instance, merely to give one example, that one of the Scandinavian countries would feel bound to go to war if there were an attack on some country like Greece in the South-East corner of Europe? It seems to me a strong proposition to say that an attack on Greece must be read for the purposes of the Atlantic Pact as an attack on any or all of the signatories of that document. It seems to me this is a matter worthy of consideration, because I remember well, as some of your Lordships will remember, that when Germany was threatening 77 Czechoslovakia, it was freely said by people of great authority and position that under the Covenant of the League we were not obliged to take military action against Germany, though the words of the Covenant, if your Lordships will forgive me for reminding you, seemed quite clear: that we were bound to preserve as against actual external aggression the integrity and independence of every member of the League and, therefore, of Czechoslovakia.
THE EARL OF PERTH
The noble Viscount will forgive me, but I think that in making his speech he has forgotten to mention the Article of the Atlantic Pact which provides for consultation if there is even a danger of attack. That does put a different complexion upon it.
§ VISCOUNF CECIL OF CHELWOOD
I do not pretend to give a complete lecture on the terms of the Atlantic Pact. I have mentioned only those portions of it which seem to me to be relevant to the argument I am addressing. The point is this. If we are to have a document of this kind which has any hope of being effective when the storm bursts, it must be quite clear. If there is any kind of way out, international human nature being what it is, certain countries will find their way out and will not act up to their obligations. I only want this matter to be made perfectly clear and definite. I do not care whether it is a measure devised by this Government or that, by my noble friend or myself; that is irrelevant. But any measure ought to be clear and effective, and I do not believe the Atlantic Pact I want particularly to emphasise in all this argument the point to remember always—that we are not fightiru2 for victory. Victory is not enough for us; we must have peace. If there is a war, the injury done under the new conditions even to the successful party will be so terrific that it may well be that both parties will be ruined and a great many other people besides. Therefore, what we want to do is to prevent war taking place, not to provide for victory in the war if it does take place. That is what I do not feel sure about.
I really have said almost all I desire to say, except this. The whole theory of keeping the peace is that we are going to have an overwhelming force on the side of peace, so overwhelming that no aggressor will dream of challenging it. The question is whether we have the makings 78 of such an overwhelming body. Now it is time to say plainly what the truth is. If Russia is neutral and stands aside, then I think we have an overwhelming force—that is supposing that Russia will do her duty, but I have already presented to your Lordships the doubts I have about that. If Russia is hostile, I am afraid we have not that overwhelming force. We have a very strong force, but not such an overwhelming force as to make it clear beyond doubt that the Russians will not venture to act in such a position. Therefore, I most heartily and entirely approve the suggestion made by Mr. Churchill, and repeated in this House by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, that every possible effort should be made to induce Russia to come in, rot by measures of appeasement—I do net believe in them—but by whatever measure is necessary in order to secure that Russia shall take her part in the peaceful organisation of the world. Without that, I very much doubt whether this organisation will be successful.
§ 4.58 p.m.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, the noble Viscount who has just spoken has confessed to us what I always suspected: that his inveterate habit of thinking for himself and following courageously the conclusions to which he, comes, led him to anticipate that if he had continued longer in another place he might have forfeited the confidence of his Party leaders. If that is the reason why he sought refuge in this House we shall all agree that their loss is our gain. For myself, I confess—perhaps it is part of my liberal upbringing—that I like men to possess an independent frame of mind, and I agree with the noble Viscount that there is a danger in our modern Parliamentary conditions of the independent mind being stamped out. I think it is owing partly to the fact that constituencies have become so much larger than they used to be, and partly to the fact that the impersonality of broadcasting now assumes such an importance in an Election campaign, that the personal touch which there used to be in the old days is almost inevitably minimised. I appreciate the danger. I further appreciate that a situation such as we are confronted with today, when the Government have a very small majority and if one man kicks over 79 the traces the Party may fall to the ground, tends to keep the deviationists within bounds. I admit all that. That is one of the problems which we have to try to solve, and I believe that the genius of the British people in political matters is great enough to find some satisfactory solution even to that problem.
I am going to discuss primarily foreign affairs to-day, but there are one or two matters with which I should like to deal before I come to foreign affairs. First of all, I should like to say that I entirely agree with what the most reverend Primate said about the impracticability—indeed, the impossibility—of contemplating any kind of Coalition Government at the present time. I always have as one of my bedside books Macaulay's Essays. A night or two ago I happened to read his essay on William Pitt. There is a passage in this essay which I think bears upon this topic, and which I commend to the notice of those who are thinking of suggesting any such solution. He is dealing with the coalition between Fox and North (I think in 1781), and he says this about them:Fox and North had committed a fatal error. They ought to have known that coalitions between Parties which have long been hostile can succeed only when the wish for coalition pervades the lower ranks of both. If the leaders unite before there is any disposition to union amongst the followers, the probability is that there will be mutiny in both camps.I am sure that that is true. Finding as we do that there is not the slightest desire on the part of the followers of either camp to have anything like it at the present time, I think any such suggestion is completely impracticable and quite out of the question at the moment, and whatever solution we may have to find for our political difficulties, it will not be that one.
There is one other thing with which I would like to deal, which was mentioned by the most reverend Primate. He said he thought that the gravity of the economic crisis had recently rather fallen into the background. I agree with him. I am going to consider for a moment why that is so. I remember being asked by the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition, just after the noble Lord, Lord Brand, had spoken on one occasion, whether I accepted what Lord Brand had 80 said. The noble Lord had painted the situation in very sombre colours. I said that we agreed that he had painted the picture completely accurately, and that the economic situation with which this country was confronted was most grave. I am bound to say that I believe that to be true to-day, and whenever I made speeches during the course of this campaign I said so quite plainly. If it be the fact that the gravity of the economic crisis has rather receded into the background, I think it is partly due to the line that was taken by the Opposition in the Election campaign. They held out glittering prospects and glittering promises: a smart reduction in taxes, the making of the pound once more honest money, houses springing up in all directions (whereas, of course, the truth is that we have had to cut down our housing programme to save dollars) and coarse grains to be provided for feeding animals. If all those things were possible it would be very nice.
§ A NOBLE LORD: And petrol.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
And let us not forget petrol. The noble Lord, Lord Cherwell, who always makes facts and figures dance to his fancy, told us that we could have as much petrol as we liked. In very truth, the hungry were to be filled with good things, but the rich were not to be sent empty away. But, coming back to realities, one of the realities that all Parties have to face is that we are confronted with a grave internal economic situation. I do not want to belittle it in any way. As the most reverend Primate said, it calls for the self-sacrifice, the restraint and the hard work of all sections of the community.
Not only are we confronted with a grave situation in that field, but we cannot get much consolation if we look at the state of the world as a whole and consider foreign affairs. It is a sad thought that to-day happens to be the centenary of the birth of President Masaryk. I was one of the few persons in your Lordships' House who knew him intimately—I had the honour of going to stay with him not infrequently. If he could see the wreck to which his hopes for his country had come, how saddened he would be. All I can hope is that in the fullness of time the great hopes which he entertained for that country will still 81 see the light of day. To-day in this country we are.welcoming the visit of the President of the French Republic. I hope it is a happy augury that the sun has come through the mists. The President is certainly sure of receiving a most warm welcome from all His Majesty's subjects, not only on his own account, but by reason of the fact that he is head of a great and friendly nation whose destiny is inevitably and inextricably mixed with our own. After centuries of fighting with France, perhaps the people of the two countries have each been too slow to realise this fact. Up to recent years there have been suspicions, which need to be dispelled. I hope that one effect of the visit of the President of the French Republic will be to demonstrate to all and sundry that those suspicions and doubts about each other which used to prevail no longer exist.
I come now to consider certain specific questions of foreign affairs. I am not going to deal with the questions of Germany or of European integration—if necessary those will be dealt with tomorrow by my noble friend Lord Henderson. First, I want to say something about the recent discussion on the atomic bomb and the hydrogen bomb. I entirely agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil that it is a dangerous fallacy—if I may say so with the greatest respect to the most reverend Primate to isolate this question from the general question of peace. It is a fallacy to think that if you can get a satisfactory agreement with regard to atomic weapons, thereupon everything will be happy. Potentially there are other weapons which may prove to be just as devastating as atomic weapons. What you have got to do is to bring about peace. This question is by far the most important topic before the people of this country. Whatever success we may have in surmounting our economic difficulties, if we are not going to have a long run of peace we are building on sand, and can do nothing. Therefore, I would say—and I would like all the people of this country to realise it—that compared to other questions of great interest—iron and steel, and that sort of thing—this question of.a durable peace is absolutely fundamental, to my mind, far transcending in importance any other question. Therefore, in seeking an enduring peace, we have to take every possible step that 82 is open to us. We certainly must not allow ourselves to be hidebound or trammelled by orthodox methods. We must not proceed in a leisurely way, as though we did not realise that this was an urgent matter.
On the other hand, we must remember that at a time like this we have got to keep stout hearts and cool heads. We certainly must not have a departmental approach, for, as the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, said, in foreign affairs timing is generally of importance. What we are really considering here are questions of method and questions of timing. It is about that that I wish to speak. The suggestion has been made that we should meet on a high level to discuss these grave issues which separate our country and those who think like we do, and Russia. Well, we will do our utmost to lay the foundations of a genuine peace by any method calculated to achieve it; but, considered realistically—and I am going to consider this realistically—would a high-level meeting now achieve anything not possible through ordinary channels? The main trouble to-day in international relations is that there is not the basic will to agree. If we could have the will to agree we could easily find the method, but since the war the Soviet Union—I am speaking frankly, and I am going to speak frankly—instead of showing willingness to agree with the Western Powers, has maintained a world-wide subversive campaign, characterised by promoting strikes, sabotage and propaganda against other countries. Such a policy, if carried to logical conclusions, is quite incompatible with the independent existence of States other than the Soviet Union. The recent history of Russian relations with Yugo-Slavia shows that the Soviet conception of independence, even among Soviet States, is non-existent.
At the end of the war we set up numerous international bodies to give expression to the world-wide feeling that peace must be solved by agreement, and the work of all these bodies has been deadlocked by the indiscriminate use of the Soviet veto and marred by Soviet propaganda. There is no sign that I can see that the Soviet Government at the present time are prepared to call off the cold war. Indeed, it is interesting to see what is the Soviet comment on the recent 83 suggestion that has been made about these high-level talks. They say that the Western warmongers have been forced by the demands for peace in their countries to make insincere statements for public consumption about their desire for peace and good relations with the Soviet Union. Now that does not seem to me to suggest that the proposal for high-level talks would lead to any real progress towards agreement.
As regards particular weapons, the weapon of mass destruction, the atomic bomb, or the even worse weapon of mass destruction, the hydrogen bomb, Mr. Acheson brought out in his statement on February 8 that while the new bomb is a dreadful prospect, it does not change the essence of the problem of control. Now let me say something about that. We stand by the United States Government in the plan of control which has been endorsed by the overwhelming majority of the United Nations but which has been summarily rejected by the Soviet Union and its satellites. A less effective plan of control would, to my mind, greatly increase the dangers to which humanity is exposed, by lulling people into a false sense of security. Nuclear fuel can be used for peaceful purposes or for making atomic weapons, and most productive processes are the same for both, Once nuclear fuels are made, the detection of the secret manufacture of weapons would be difficult because only small installations, easily concealed, are necessary, and the time required to assemble bombs from nuclear fuel is very short. Further, the process of measuring atomic fuel is extremely intricate and still subject to appreciable error.
It is for these reasons that we, together with the other members of the United Nations, have felt ourselves unable to accept the Soviet proposals for control, which can offer no greater safeguard than what is called periodic inspection or special investigation. Whatever investigation we have must be permanent. The only control which can be of any value is the control achieved by the operation and management of an international control agency of all processes leading up to the final processes by which nuclear fuel is produced. The Soviet Union at present refuse to raise the curtain of secrecy round their country, but with atomic 84 energy there can be no lasting international security so long as such secrecy is preserved. The Soviet Government should consider and say whether they are prepared, by dropping secrecy, to free all nations from the fear which at the present moment haunts them. I have tried to be completely realistic in this matter. It is no good putting our heads in the sand. It is no good "crying peace, where there is no peace." It is no good getting mere agreement unless that agreement is genuine agreement which is likely to be honoured. On the other hand, we do know that the Soviet have sometimes shown themselves to be quite realistic, particularly, to give an illustration, in the case of the air lift. As a result of the air lift we were able to secure a very different policy from the policy they were seeking to enforce previously. So much for that.
Now is what is proposed wise? I was impressed, I confess, by a speech which Mr. Eden made almost a year ago—and Mr. Eden, after all, knows a great deal more about foreign policy and timing than I do. This is what he said when he was speaking at Wellington, in New Zealand:I do not believe that meetings between statesmen, however illustrious, can bring about any lasting improvement in international relations. A few hours agreeable discussion and a few phrases of general agreement do in fact more harm than good.There is one other quotation with which I would like to trouble your Lordships, and which I entirely agree puts the whole case as well as it can be put. It is the statement made by President Truman. He timed it with great care. He delivered it just after the Election because he obviously did not want to interfere with our electoral processes. He said this:We are convinced of the necessity for an international agreement to limit the use of atomic energy to peaceful purposes and for a workable international system to ensure that such an agreement is effectively carried out. We believe that the United Nations is the proper forum in which to reach such an agreement. We firmly believe that all nations would gain by such an international agreement. We shall continue to work honestly and wholeheartedly towards that end but we must remember that the outcome is not ours alone to determine. The actions of men in other countries will help to shape the ultimate decision.We believe that the plan for controlling atomic energy which has been worked out in the United Nations and has been approved by the overwhelming majority of its members, 85 would he effective. That plan, therefore, has our support. It has our support not because of its form of its words but because we believe it would achieve effective control. The stakes are too large to let us or any nation stand on pride of authorship. We ask only for a plan that provides an effective, workable system—anything less would be a sham agreement. Anything less would increase, not decrease, the dangers of the use of atomic energy for destructive purposes. We shall continue to examine every possibility of reaching effective agreement for effective control.I need hardly tell your Lordships that the problem of controlling atomic energy has been present in the mind of His Majesty's Government, and, indeed, of every intelligent person in this country, for many months past. I need hardly tell your Lordships that, in collaboration with those who think with us, we have had close consultation as to what is the right thing to do. I agree that the issue at stake is far too serious for us to stand upon any technicalities, red tape rules or anything of that sort We shall continue, in conjunction with the members of the Commonwealth and the United States of America, to see what can be done. I am perfectly certain that we must work in the closest possible concert, and if we see any possibility of bringing about this wholly desirable result, I can assure the most reverend Primate that we shall not hesitate to adopt it.
I have attempted to deal with this particular problem completely realistically, but not in a pessimistic way. I believe that I have faced up to the facts, and I do not want the most reverend Primate to think that because my answer appears to he negative, therefore we are dealing with this matter in a leisurely way. We are facing the facts, and we are going to expend every effort we can to get some for m of agreement. But what is really wanted is the will to agree. If we could secure that, then the actual machinery which we employed would not very much matter. At the present moment, however, it seems to me that the will to agree is lacking, and therefore we must do what we can by means of our defence arrangements, the Atlantic Pact and other arrangements, to make ourselves strong and able to resist attack. In that connection, may I just remind your Lordships and particularly the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil of Chelwood, what are the actual provisions of the North Atlantic Treaty?
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
Perhaps I might say a word on the general problem. The noble and learned Viscount quoted my right honourable friend Mr. Eden in such a way as to suggest that Mr. Eden did not believe in high-level conversations The noble and learned Viscount may well have read a general expression of Mr. Eden's views to that effect in reference to normal circumstances. But Mr. Eden is certainly in favour of the proposal which has been put forward for a high-level consultation with Marshal Stalin, and I think it is fair to him that that should be said.
I think it was some Victorian statesman—I forget whom—who said that the most fascinating part of foreign affairs was that in them you deal not with problems but with personalities. There is a great deal of truth in that. In Mr. Stalin we have, I suppose, one of the most powerful personalities in the world today. If anything could he agreed with him direct, what he said would be effective in his own country, and if you could not get in touch with him, nothing that anyone else might say in Russia would have very much importance. I think the Government should bear that in mind, if they will permit me to say so. The noble and learned Viscount said that there was nothing that could not be done through the normal channels. That would no doubt be true in a democratic country; but I do not think it is necessarily true in a dictatorship. Therefore I would not rule out the possibility that a personal approach might be profitable. It might produce a change of heart in the Generalissimo himself—though I am not saying that it would. I still feel, therefore, that the Government ought to consider the matter. I gathered from the last words of the noble and learned Viscount that he does rot rule out something of this kind at the proper time.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I am grateful to the noble Marquess. He is perfectly entitled to tell me what he has, because he can say that Mr. Eden was in favour of this method of approach, but I am bound to say that Mr. Eden's speech of, I think, February 19 of last year, did not seem to me to indicate that line. I was going to say to noble Lords that we shall, in complete concert with the United Nations, continue to consider the matter, ruling out nothing. It is a 87 question largely of timing, and the present moment is, in our view—having discussed this matter with our friends—not the proper time for this method of approach. Whether in time the circumstances will change, I do not know. But we shall continue to consider the matter and we shall not hesitate to do anything because it is unorthodox or because it is suggested by one of our opponents. We shall do anything we possibly can to advance the cause of peace, because there is almost no price too high to pay to achieve that.
I should now like to remind your Lordships what are the provisions of the North Atlantic Treaty. Article 4 reads as follows:The Parties will consult together whenever, in the opinion of any of them, the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any of the Parties is threatened.Article 5 reads as follows:The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all; and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in the exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognised by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.Therefore if there were an attack made on a party to the Treaty, an obligation arises under Article 5 of the Treaty compelling every other party to consider this an attack upon itself and obliging it to take such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force to meet that attack. I think that any gloss arising from the use of these words by the Lord Chancellor would not add to them—and I should certainly be reluctant to detract from them.
There is one other matter to which I would refer, for it is a very important topic. I want to say something about the criticism which has been made with regard to the recognition of China. His Majesty's Government quite realise that there are arguments on both sides in this matter—there generally are on these questions. I think the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition is wrong in saying that by recognising China we have driven a wedge between the United States and ourselves. "Why," asked the noble 88 Marquess, "did you not wait for the Colombo Conference?", and in particular he said that he understood that there had not been consultation. I ask your Lordships to accept my personal assurance on this point: there has never been a matter with regard to which there has been closer or more continuous and more direct consultation between this country and the other member States of the Commonwealth. For months past, every single facet of this problem has been discussed—there is no question about that at all. Whether or not the new Governments coming into power in some of those countries had time to go through the pile of papers that had accumulated I do not know; but that is the fact and it can easily be demonstrated. It is on record. Another fact was this. Before the Colombo Conference it became quite plain that we could not secure a united verdict on this matter. If we had been able to do that, then I think there would have been a great deal to be said for waiting till the end of the Colombo Conference. But that could not be done. India in particular recognised the People's Government in China before we did.
I believe it to be in order to quote an observation made in another place so long as it was made in a different Session. I am going to quote to your Lordships an observation of Mr. Churchill on this matter, because I am beginning to be afraid that the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition is a slight deviationist from his own Party on this topic.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
The topic of the recognition of China. He represented to-day in the House—as he did earlier in a letter to The Times—his disapproval of recognising the People's Government of China. This is what Mr. Churchill thought on November 17 last, when we had not done it. He was then criticising us for not having done it. This is what he said:Ought we to recognise them or not? Recognising a person is not necessarily an act of approval…One has to recognise lots of things and people in this world of sin and woe that one does not like. The reason for having diplomatic relations is not to confer a compliment, but to secure a convenience. When a large and powerful mass of people are 89 organised together and are masters of an immense area and of great populations, it may he necessary to have relations with them. One may even say that when relations are most difficult, that is the time when diplomacy is most needed. We ought certainly to have suitable contacts with this large part of the world's surface and population under the control of the Chinese Communists. We ought to have them on general grounds, quite apart from all the arguments—and they are very important arguments—about the protection of specific British interests. Again I would say it seems difficult to justify having full diplomatic relations with the Soviet Government in Moscow and remaining without even de facto contacts with its enormous offshoots into China.I agree with that. We have to remember that we govern immense Chinese populations in Singapore, in Malaya and in Hongkong. We have our own very special interests in this matter, and before deciding to take this line we, of course, received advice from traders, from our commercial people, and from our governmental people; and in the light of that advice we took a decision which I venture to think is plainly right.
It is a caricature of the situation to say, "If you recognise these people, all your trade difficulties are surmounted. "Of course they are not. Our trade difficulties remain. Surely the problem is this: by recognising China and by having diplomatic contacts, do we or do we not facilitate those trade relations? We cannot guarantee that they will be continued. It is important for us that they should be and we are anxious to maintain our contacts there, but goodness only knows whether we shall succeed. By having diplomatic representation there, however, we do increase our chances of solving the various difficulties which will undoubtedly be in the way of our traders. So far as the United States of America are concerned, they were most understanding, realising that our position was peculiar, unique and special; and it is the fact that, at their request, we are now in charge of the interests of American nationals in China. We are very proud and honoured to be able to help them in that way, and I believe we are doing useful work.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
The noble and learned Viscount has said that I was speaking only for myself on this question. I am quite content to be regarded as speaking for myself I feel extremely strongly on this matter. I think, too, that I represent a considerable body 90 of opinion in this country and that it is right that that opinion should be voiced. So far as what the noble and learned Viscount has said is concerned, I remain of the opinion that the recognition of the Communist Government in China has had a deplorable effect upon all the States neighbouring upon China. The noble and learned Viscount shakes his head, but I have had communications from people who are in close touch there, and that is the view they hold. So far as the United States is concerned, the United States Government no doubt treated His Majesty's Government with courtesy, and very properly so. But the effect on the public opinion of the United States was bad. We spoke just row about timing. I agree that a matter of this kind must be a matter of timing, and I maintain that the timing was most unfortunate. I recognise that the Government do not share this view, but I do not retract from what. I said in the earlier part of the debate.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, I do not expect the noble Marquess to withdraw his opinions because I ventured to controvert them. I know he holds his opinions and I know he will continue to hold them, whether I controvert them or not. What I am doing is putting to your Lordships counter arguments on this matter, and the counter arguments are really overwhelming. The relevance of the noble Marquess standing by himself on this matter is simply this: that so strong are the arguments against him that, if I follow it aright, even his own Party do not agree with him.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
Then I gather that his own Party have a difference of opinion. This is a matter on which my own Party have no difference of opinion. We all agree that in the circumstances we took the only sensible, and indeed the inevitable, course. With what result? We have been followed by the three Scandinavian countries; we: have been followed by Switzerland, by Burma, by Israel and the other countries—noble Lords laugh, but these countries are important. We ought to try to get them on our side. With regard to the other countries of the world, they are waiting to see what happens as a result of 91 Mr. Hutchison's mission. Mr. Hutchison has now been accepted as chargé d'affaires ad interim. He was previously in charge of His Majesty's Embassy at Nanking. He has been accepted by the People's Government in the capacity I have indicated, and he is now in Pekin discussing preliminary and procedural questions on the establishment of diplomatic relations. If, as I hope, he meets with success and manages to smooth over some of these procedural matters, then I strongly suspect that the course we have already taken—and it is thanks to that course that we have Mr. Hutchison there—will be followed very much more widely. The whole problem of the Far East and of South-East Asia is one of immense importance, and to my mind we cannot avoid any chance of getting to Know what is going on in that region by having diplomatic representatives.
My Lords, I have spoken for much longer than I meant to. In doing so I have covered only a small part of the canvas. I have not attempted to deal with home affairs, with which my noble friend the Leader of the House will deal, but I have tried to ask your Lordships to give us some credit for being, on the one hand, determined to solve this most difficult problem if human ingenuity can solve it and, on the other, being completely realistic in our approach to it.
§ 5.41 p.m.
My Lords, the intricacies of the traffic arrangements which had to be made for the welcome visit of the President of France caused me to miss the first part of the speech of the noble Marquess who is just leaving the House, but because of his very lengthy interventions I was able to gather the gist of what he had to say on China. I hope he will accept my apology and that explanation as he leaves us.
We have just had a weighty and important speech by the Lord Chancellor, and I am sure my noble and learned friend will forgive me if I attempt to add a rider to the important matters that he has dealt with, particularly with regard to China. In that connection I would like to take the argument just a little further. China has the greatest population in the world. It is potentially a great Power. When the necessary arrangements are made its delegate will be a permanent member of 92 the Security Council. It is a country with which for many generations we have had the most friendly relations. Furthermore, it has a people who, fundamentally peace-loving, have suffered more terribly from civil war and foreign invasion since 1910 than any other country in the world. It is a country that is longing for peace. It is greatest in Communist population, if Chinese Communism can be so described.
I have made this plea publicly and I wish to make it here in your Lordships' House, if I am permitted, that I believe the road to Moscow, for the high level talks that were under discussion by the Lord Chancellor just now, might be found to lie through Pekin. I am looking ahead. I believe that if the approach was made, again at a high level, through Pekin we might find the Chinese good friends in trying to find some means of removing the causes of war, which of course is the answer to the threat of the atomic and hydrogen weapons, and everything else. My Lords, I venture that rider to the very important remarks made by my noble and learned friend, and knowing China a little I believe there is something in what I suggest.
My Lords, the Leader of the Liberal Party in this House, Lord Samuel, deplored, as indeed did the most reverend Primate, the indisputable fact that the Election has disclosed that what we have all wished to avoid for generations has come about—namely, that the country is divided in its politics broadly on class lines. In the great industrial districts, including, as I might remind Lord Samuel, all the steel constituencies, there was a very heavy Labour vote. But where you have a professional, business, residential population, the so-called middle classes, the dormitory suburbs and so on, there was a heavy Conservative vote. In other words, the division between the Parties is becoming horizontal instead of vertical, which is not good for democracy and certainly not good for this country. What is to be done about it is, of course, only too obvious. We in the Labour Party have not converted enough people to Socialism. We have not converted enough of the middle classes to philosophical Socialism, and we have now once more to set about beginning our missionary work all over again, our educational and propaganda to convert more 93 of the middle classes to our way of thinking, in order that we may once more get some semblance of a vertical division and a real majority for Socialism. It is not for me to advise the Conservative Party or its Leaders, but perhaps it would be a good thing if they could alter their policy and programme a little in such a way as to attract more working class voters. That would also aid the process of preventing this division on class lines which, looking ahead, may become very dangerous indeed. In this debate the statement has been made that we have failed to obtain a mandate for nationalising steel and for farther nationalisation of other industries. I have not yet heard what has happened to-day in another place but, speaking for myself, I am prepared to accept that. We did not get a mandate for further nationalisation; we did no, even get a mandate to continue the lion and Steel Act. But there is a long time ahead before anything need happen in regard to that, and in the meantime, as Lord Salisbury has pointed out, a great deal may happen.
What have we to do? The gracious Speech is the answer. That obviously is the decision of the Cabinet. The next thing to do is to recognise the fact that, divided as Parliament is, what will have to be done in another place is what we had to do in the last Parliament in this House. There must be consultations. I agree entirely with what has been said by the Lord Chancellor and by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York on the subject of coalition. I hope to hear the other side express themselves through the eloquence of Lord Elton. But consultations and a broad programme of agreement are surely necessary, and I do not see-that there can be any equivocation or camouflage about it.
In foreign affairs there is a wide measure of agreement, and in matters of defence there is also a wide measure of agreement. If, as I am afraid is only too true, we are heading for a deeper economic depression and greater economic difficulties, then I am sure there must he a very broad platform of agreement on economics between the two main Parties. Surely we can regard Parliament, at any rate for the next two years, as a Council of State—two years because that is the remaining period of Marshall Aid assistance, and then obviously a new approach 94 altogether must be made, depending largely on our success or otherwise in solving the present economic difficulties. But, given statesmanship on both sides, as I believe will be forthcoming, there is no reason at all why this present Government should not remain in office for two years doing useful work for the country and, above all, in agreement on the main principles, helping to solve the very serious and increasingly grave economic difficulties which are bound to face us.
I would not like to close my remarks without a great tribute to the Cabinet for the emphasis they have given to our agricultural problems, and particularly to the great question of the marginal lands. I am not an agriculturist and I never like to speak on the subject, but once or twice I have ventured to engage your Lordships' attention on the question of our 14,000,000 acres of marginal land. This point is closely connected with the remarks which I ventured to address to your Lordships a moment ago. In view of the worsening, economic situation which I think we may have to face, we can no longer afford to neglect these 14,000,000 acres of marginal land, and I hope I am right in saying that the Government are going to tackle this matter in the same sort of spirit that we tackled the tasks of the First and Second World Wars. It may be that the ordinary farmer, farming for a living, cannot possibly afford the machinery, the labour, the fertilisers, and so on, to bring these marginal lands into production. It must therefore be sponsored or even carried out under Government control or direction, or at any rate: with considerable Government assistance. If we can increase our production of foodstuffs from these marginal lands, as undoubtedly we can, then it is a great programme which is very well worth while carrying out. In the recent General Election I made, I suppose, as many speeches as anyone who was not a candidate. Sometimes I spoke two or three times in a a single night and I spoke every night. I never got up on a platform without stressing this matter of the use of marginal land, and everywhere I went I found tae greatest interest in it, and general agreement, especially in the country districts. I am sure that the Government will have the support of Parliament in this matter, and that a bolder and more vigorous effort will attract the support of the country.
95 This debate has ranged over a very wide field. We have already had one admirable answer on behalf of the Government from my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor, on the foreign affairs section of it. I understand that my noble friend the Leader of the House is to deal with home affairs. I undertook to curtail my remarks in order to give my noble friend Lord Elton an opportunity to put very briefly his point of view on coalition. For that reason, I have confined my laudatory remarks to this one item of marginal land. I wish my noble friends the Leader of the House and his colleagues all success in carrying gut this part of their policy.
§ 5.51 p.m.
§ LORD ELTON
My Lords, you will be relieved to hear that I am not going to attempt to make the speech which earlier in the afternoon I had intended to make. I understand that arrangements are necessary according to which the noble Earl on the Front Opposition Bench has to rise in a very few minutes. Accordingly, I will reserve for a later occasion the remarks which I would have tried to make, for the noble Lords with whom I have been in consultation are hoping to put a Motion in favour of National Government on the Order Paper of your Lordships' House at a very early date. Therefore, in the moment or two left to me I will confine myself to drawing your Lordships' attention to one or two remarks which have already fallen from previous speakers in this debate on the subject on which I had intended to speak.
I hope that your Lordships have noticed that no fewer than four speakers who have already addressed you this afternoon have referred, at not inconsiderable length, to the possibility of the formation of a National Government. It is true that all came down on the wrong side of the fence, but three months ago they would not have mentioned the possibility of a National Government at all. Now they are saying that it is not necessary. In another three months' time they will be embracing each other. The most reverend Primate, who I am sorry to note is not now in his place, went almost the whole way with us, your Lordships will remember. He pleaded most eloquently for a very great degree 96 of co-operation between the Parties. But I am afraid that the Archbishop, like so many of us, is yielding to the temptation to will the end without willing the indispensable means, because we are not likely to have concentration and co-operation in the indispensable measures unless we are prepared to carry the will to agree into the very structure of our Government.
The noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor, who has just left the Woolsack, made some rather astringent references to the possibility of a National Government, and he quoted from a comment made by Lord Macaulay on the Coalition between Fox and North in the 1780's. I would not venture to cross swords with the Lord Chancellor on a matter of law, or even on a matter of foreign politics, but I have spent some of my life learning and teaching history, and this particular reference of the Lord Chancellor's happens to fall within the special period which I had to teach. With every respect to the noble and learned Viscount, I would say that the analogy is almost entirely irrelevant, and so is the comment of Lord Macaulay which was, your Lordships may remember, to the effect that if the rank and file of any Party are not agreed, it is no good to attempt an agreement at the top.
Conditions now are utterly unlike those in the 1780's, and I would say, with all respect to the Lord Chancellor, that whatever may be the strength of the agreement or the lack of agreement among rank and file politicians—which I imagine is what he is referring to—I have pretty good evidence that there is a very great readiness to agree among the rank and file of Party voters. In fact, with some access to special classes of evidence, I should go so far as to say that if it were known that there was a real chance of forming a national alliance of all Parties at Westminster, an incredulous gasp of relief would go up from seven citizens out of ten.
I would end, if I may, by saying to the Lord Chancellor that the case for a National Government is really quite simple. It is, very briefly, that only a National Government is likely to have the courage either to disclose the full gravity of the situation or to attack it 97 with the necessarily courageous and unwelcome measures needed to cope with it. The Election campaign, on which so many encomiums have been passed, was, I am afraid, like the gracious Speech, founded upon one fundamental and far-reaching unreality. In the torrent of exhortation and admonition from the rival platforms the treat issues, issues of life and death, were treated with virtually unbroken silence. There was a remarkable leader in The Times on polling day in which it was pointed out (I think I am quoting accurately) that "the prospect of hard times ahead, whatever the result of the Election, had, oddly, been shunned by both sides." It was the same, of course, with foreign affairs, as is inevitable in a Party conflict at this moment. We all know that we may be within a few years of blowing up civilisation, possibly even of blowing up the planet on which we live; yet to such an extent was that supreme issue ignored at the Election that Mr. Churchill's almost casual and non-committal reference to it, detonated in the vacuum with all the effects of high explosive. We have had a gracious Speech from the Throne which, on the eve of what may be the crisis of our fate, is full of references to cattle grids and midwives. I hope that, within a few weeks, we shall be able to put on the Order Paper a Motion which will give your Lordships a greater chance than there has been this evening of considering what we believe to be the very powerful case for a national alliance in the interests, the desperate interests, of the country at the moment.
§ 5.58 p.m.
§ LORD MANCROFT
My Lords, the noble Lord who has just spoken has very kindly granted me three of his valuable minutes. I shall not take up more than that of your Lordships' time, for I wish to make only one point. I had intended to make certain remarks to your Lordships on the subject of China. However, the high level to which that argument has been lifted has made that a most imprudent step for me to take. I should, however, like to call your Lordships' attention to one part of the world which in the flurry of the Election has been pushed into the bottom columns and the back pages of the newspapers, and which finds no mention in the gracious 98 Speech. Our fellow citizens, our kith and kin, are still being murdered daily in Malaya, and there appears to be little chance that the rate at which those murders are going on will be reduced, despite the desperate efforts that the Malayan Government are making. I earnestly hope that His Majesty's Government will bend all their energies to solving also this intolerable problem which has dragged on now for three weary, bloody and expensive years. It is not only lives and money that we are losing; we are also losing many ambitious programmes of welfare and housing which have had to be placed in abeyance in Malaya. I do not think it is unkind to say that the loss of their seats by the late Secretary of State for the Colonies and his Under-Secretary has not been greeted in Malaya with anything more than perfunctory commiseration. The people of Malaya are looking to the new Minister and this Government for stronger and les; vacillating leadership flan was shown by their immediate predecessors. This new Government have inherited a legacy of drift which I hope they will renounce in the very near future.
§ 6.1 p.m.
§ EARL, DE LA WARR
My Lords., the noble Lord who spoke just now said he would be brief in order to suit my convenience. I appreciate it very much but I should not like the House to be under a misconception. The position is that the noble Viscount, Lord Addison, has an important public engagement and we have to make it possible for him to leave as soon as possible. In the few words I venture to address to the House I would ask your Lordships to descend from the atomic heights to what I might call the merely important. As in most of the speeches we have had today we seem to have been contemplating only the date at which we are all going to be blown to nothingness, perhaps it may seem something,M a relief to come back for a moment to the peaceful contemplation of green fields and grazing cows. A great many noble Lords halve spoken to-day, and for that reason alone it is best for those of us who are privileged to take part in this debate to restrict ourselves as much as possible to our own subject. Therefore, I will not venture to deal at all with the general parts of the gracious Speech. I shall 99 start right away where I mean to end; that is, on the subject of agriculture.
As your Lordships know, there are many references to agriculture in the gracious Speech. As one reads these references one almost finds oneself wondering whether they were made because agriculture was really considered to be important or because it was considered that cattle grids and other subjects were safer politics than iron and steel or housing. I think that most of your Lordships will feel as I do, that we could have been told something more of the true gravity of the problem and also how great is the contribution that the farmers and farmworkers can make in the present situation. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer was right in telling the country, as he did only a few months ago, that in his view agriculture was the greatest single potential dollar saver in the country, then why could we not have been told so in this first statement to the people of this Government's policy?
The General Election is behind us and the sooner we all forget it the better. Before that Election started, most of us felt that our agricultural policy was being run on a more or less non-Party basis, and from the point of view of the industry we all thought that highly desirable. I fear that it must be admitted that during the Election Mr. Tom Williams and some of his supporters felt they were free to kick a little over the traces. As it is important that for the next period during which the Government are in office we should work together, it is just as well to be quite clear as to the basis on which we feel it will be possible to work with the other side. We must all have been sorry that Mr. Williams led off every speech he made four nights running in Norfolk with the remark that during his seventeen years of Parliamentary life—though to be accurate he has been in Parliament twenty-one years—he had never known the Tory Party to do anything to help agriculture. That remark was quite unworthy of the position that Mr. Williams has built up for himself, and which has been most willingly and generously accorded to him by the Opposition. He certainly cannot claim that during the last four years he has been attacked on Party lines by the 100 Conservative Opposition; nor have Conservatives done as they might have done, and gone out of their way to remind the farmers and farmworkers of how the Socialist Party in Parliament in pre-war days, led in agricultural matters by Mr. Tom Williams, voted consistently against the tariffs, subsidies, import controls, the Wheat Act and other measures that were brought in by the National Government in the period from 1931 to 1939 in their attempts to stave off the effects of the then appalling economic depression.
Your Lordships might say, "Why go back on all this ground now, when, after all, the Election is over?" I mention this matter not in order to divide us but on the contrary because, like many noble Lords on both sides of the House, I loathe Party politics in agriculture. It is essential that we should work together in the future, and the only possible basis of working together is to make it clear beyond any doubt beforehand what we are not prepared to stand for.
Similarly, I venture to protest against Labour spokesmen, one after the other, including the present Minister, claiming the whole price and market security scheme as their own. It is true that the noble Viscount, Lord Addison, who has always been a friend of the industry, put forward certain ideas to his Party in 1929 and got them adopted by his Party; but for the next two years, as a member of the Cabinet—I have some personal memory of that period, and after all a man has to be judged by what he is in office, and not by what he puts over to his Party—he was never able to introduce a single one of these measures.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
The noble Earl really must be accurate. He was my Under-Secretary at the time. The Agricultural Marketing Act, the Land Equalisation Act and the Drainage Act were all three passed into law at that very time.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
Yes, the noble Viscount and I co-operated on them, but none of them actually affects price and market security, which we are now discussing. Drainage is very important, but it has nothing to do with market security. We have to judge Governments and Ministers not by what they say, but by what they do, and the fact remains that the first scheme for giving fixed prices to 101 farmers was operated during the wartime Coalition Government by Mr. Hudson in 1943, and it was consolidated on the formal February price review basis early in 1945, before the Election. It makes it difficult for those of us who want to keep agriculture out of politics when statements and claims like this are made by one Party. We are quite prepared to pay full recognition to the noble Viscount the Leader of the House for what be has contributed to agriculture, but I would ask noble Lords opposite to drop this line of controversy. It is not only untenable, but is harmful to the unity of the industry, which is so desirable.
In the gracious Speech the Government promise to renew efforts to increase food production and further schemes for developing marginal land. That all sounds to the good, and I am sure it will receive the full support and good will of noble Lords on this side of the House. We shall certainly await with interest the action that is taken. I must confess that I feel that it is the sense of drive and urgency in their administration that has been lacking, and which is needed to-day, rather than more schemes or Acts of Parliament. The Government claim in the gracious Speech that production has already increased since 1945. Those figures are very complicated, and it may well be that the increases of livestock which have taken place do more than compensate for the 2,000,000 acres of tillage land that have been lost. When it comes to sums in which one has to balance a milking cow against an acre of ploughed land or grass land that may or may not have been improved, I do not think any of us can profess to be very accurate about it. But whatever the calculations, the fact remains that there are few farming people in this country to-day who would tell you that they are conscious of any great sense of Government lead or drive to produce more at the present moment. I challenge any noble Lord who is not himself farming to go round the countryside and ask any farmer that question.
There are at present two schemes in existence for marginal land, about which the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, spoke. There is the Hill Farming Act, 1946, and also Section l08 of the Agriculture Act. I will not go into details, but my information, which was given in a Parliamentary 102 answer on May 9, is that since 1946£150,000 has been granted under the Hill Farming Act. Under Section 108 of the Agriculture Act, the magnificent sum of—300,000 has been allocated—I am not sure whether any of that has been spent. The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, spoke about 14,000,000 acres of rough grazing; actually the figure is about 17,000,000 acres; but I would reckon something between 5,000,000 and 6,000,000 acres as being capable of reclamation on anything like an economic basis. It has been reckoned by the best experts that at least 120,000 tons of meat could he produced from that 5,000,000 or 6,000,000 acres, which is approximately one-quarter of our total meat ration. I have only to mention those figures to your Lordships to show how utterly derisory is the attack so far made on the problem. I appeal to noble Lords opposite, and to the noble Viscount, Lord Addison, to take particular note of this point, and I ask the noble Viscount to use his efforts to see that something of a more drastic character is done in dealing with what is a very hopeful problem for attack.
One cannot help feeling that the Government have an extraordinary idea that they have only to put forward a scheme or a plan, or pass an Act of Parliament, and they have done something. They are quite wrong. It is the drive and energy that they put behind the administration of those plans and Acts of Parliament that really matter. They have been in office just under five years, and the longer they remain in office so much more are they going to be judged, not by their plans but by their accomplishments. In this case it is going to be: How much more food is being grown? How much marginal land has actually been reclaimed?
I shall not speak on the price review—I do not think it would be helpful; the Ministry and the National Farmers' Union are now in the throes of negotiation—but there is one point I would mention. I would urge the Government to have second thoughts on the withdrawal of the fertiliser subsidy. One can argue both ways about the subsidy on feeding stuffs, and I shall not attempt to deal with that question. However, I feel sure that production will he discouraged if the Government adhere to their decision to do away with the fertiliser subsidy. I know 103 that there is a great deal to be said against it in theory, but in practice it is a form of credit to the small man, and is an encouragement to him to spend money ahead and to use fertiliser and produce larger crops. My second point does not relate to the price review at all, but I would appeal to the Government in future to take some notice of the claims of horticulture. Hitherto it has been left out of every calculation and has been let down again and again.
There is a further point affecting production. It is no use spending money in reclaiming marginal land, which we know means on the whole poor land, if we allow something like 50,000 acres a year to he taken away from agriculture. The Government may question my figures, but that is only due to the scandalous fact that neither they nor I know exactly what the amount is. We can only make our guesses and take advice. There is no machinery for ascertaining what has been lost to agriculture, but the drift goes on steadily, year after year. It is time that something was done, first to collect reliable information about what is happening and, secondly, to control it. To sum up on the point of increased production, I would say: let us have more lead and drive in the production campaign. Let us have a very different scheme from what we have had up to now for dealing with marginal land. Let us have more money available and fewer restrictions in the spending of it. Let the fertiliser subsidy remain, and let a check be placed on the taking of land from agriculture.
We are all sorry that there is nothing about electricity in the gracious Speech. We are, however, promised an advance on the water front. That is all to the good. Presumably this means more pipes. The gracious Speech hints at legislation, but I should have thought that pipes carried more water than Acts of Parliament. It is possible that better plans are needed for the co-ordination of our water supplies, but the necessary legislation exists in the Act of 1945, and the Minister of Health has hardly looked at that Act. I hope Parliament will be very careful before granting more powers to a Minister who already possesses powers which he is in fact not using.
I do not want to deal with the general subject of housing, with which my noble 104 friend Lord Llewellin will deal tomorrow, but it seems to me that we are in a rut of a quite out-of-date controversy on the subject of rural housing—the council house on the one side versus the tied cottage on the other. One asks oneself: Cannot we, after all these years, try and strike some new ground? Is there no satisfactory compromise? Everybody will recognise that no decent employer would or should be allowed to throw a man and his family out of a cottage at a week's notice without alternative accommodation. On the other hand, the Government really admit the need for tied or service cottages, because every day, for their miners and their railwaymen, and on their research and development farms and forestry holdings, they are building what are in fact tied cottages. After these years of quite barren controversy, which have done nothing to further the building of rural houses, cannot we find some compromise which would be satisfactory to both sides, either by extending the period of notice or some other method? If not, it is the worker who is going to be the sufferer—let there be no mistake about that. From now on he will be limited for any new supplies of houses to council houses, built for the most part a long way from his job and for which he will pay something now averaging over 25s. a week instead of the traditional 3s. to 6s. a week. I know that the subject is full of political difficulty and danger, but I would appeal to the Minister to face this question and try to find a solution. If he manages to do so he will have done a very good day's work, not for the agricultural worker alone but for the agricultural industry as a whole.
Finally, let me assure noble Lords opposite that if they really want to develop agriculture on a non-political basis they will find everybody on this side of the House willing and anxious to co-operate. We should find it extremely difficult to work with them if they continued their General Election line of denying that we did anything for agriculture between the wars—years when conditions were difficult because there was a food glut instead of a food shortage—and we should find it difficult to co-operate if they felt it necessary to lay sole claim to the credit for the comparatively better conditions that farmers and farmworkers are enjoying to-day. We cannot co-operate on the basis of hostile 105 propaganda behind our backs. We are proud of what we did for agriculture when it was not so easy to be friendly to agriculture as it is to-day. We know that hard words have been said during the Election campaign, but I think Englishmen have this essential strength: that they can easily forget the blows of combat. If it is made easy or, indeed, possible for us to join in a great united effort to make the maximum use of the land in this country, then the Government will not find us hanging back.
§ 6.25 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
My Lords, in the first place, I must thank the House and noble Lords for making it possible for me to get up at this stage, and to my noble friend Lord Calverley for abstaining from rising at this moment. I am sure it is not necessary for me to add much, if anything, to what has been said with regard to the most vital necessity of our time—namely, some means of curtailing or preventing the development of the atomic bomb. That has been fully dealt with by my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor, and I should like to say with him that we shall stand on no ground of principles; we shall stand on no question of proposals being new. We are perfectly prepared to explore any hopeful avenue, but it is no good pretending that we can ignore the grim realities of this dreadful age. I should have liked to assure the noble Marquess, if he had been here, that the experience of Yalta was not very encouraging on three-cornered conversations. We do not stand against anything that is really hopeful, but it is no use pretending that it is possible to devise any effective international control over the manufacture of these horrible weapons, or even of others which are worse.
I do not need to add anything to what my noble friend said on the question of recognition of China. We spent a great deal of time on this on a great many occasions, and our friends in the Commonwealth knew very well what we were doing and how we were considering the matter. I am quite sure that the step which was taken was the right step. As my noble friend Lord Strabolgi said, you cannot ignore the fact that this immense population this great area of the world, subjected itself, almost listlessly one 106 might say, to a new form of conquest or a new form of Government, and so indicated a recognition by millions of industrious Chinese people that, without knowing much about the philosophy of it, they hoped the present system would be better than the one they had before. It is right and sensible that we should recognise and have dealings with those who are responsible for the government of that great area, just as we do with other countries.
Now I will come to rather more domestic issues. I hope they will not appear trivial, as compared with these great matters, but I must say a few words about the Election and about the position which has arisen out of it. I followed with great interest, and I shall certainly think over with much profit, what the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, said about it. But, of course, we have not a referendum system in this country. We have the system of elected members to Parliament, and it never has been logical. I hope that we never shall have a system like those produced in many other countries. There have always been a number of Parties, and there have always been a number of votes which have not been represented by Members in the House. It is not often there are as many as on this occasion, but perhaps it is only just a passing phase. One cannot have two systems at the same time. As a result of long experience we have arrived at this method of electing Members of Parliament. They do the best they can, and if they make a mess of things the people turn them out next time, and elect someone else. On the whole this system of ours has worked better than any other system in the world; but you cannot have that scheme and, at the same time, have a system which partakes of the nature of the result of a referendum. It would not work. I use the word "referendum" because I am going to say a word or two about iron and steel presently.
It is a remarkable fact, and one which cannot be ignored, that in the places where steel is produced, and where, therefore, one presumes that the people know more about the subject, the electors voted overwhelmingly in favour of nationalisation. That is a fact. These people who were most intimately concerned in the proposal voted for it.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
I can only say that if the nationalisation of iron and steel had been unpopular, and if the proposals did not commend themselves to the electors of those districts, they might have voted differently from other constituencies. But they did not. We have the unfortunate and very significant fact emerging, as the noble Viscount pointed out, that there is a sort of division of the country into industrial, on the one side, and residential or semi-rural or suburban, on the other. It is a feature of this Election which I hope will be modified in the future. It is a fact that although we are in this strange position at the present time, the Labour Party did receive more than 1,000,000 more votes than they had ever received before. The Conservative Party also, of course, received a great many more. Some noble Lords have made reflections on the character of the King's Speech, bearing in mind the result of the Election. I should have thought that the gracious Speech would have been reckoned to us as a virtue, because what we have done is to take account in it of the result of the Election. We have said in the Speech that we do not propose to introduce measures of an acutely controversial character—or words to that effect. That is a recognition of the results of the Election. We shall not depart from that attitude.
It is true that circumstances might arise—and we guard ourselves on this point—requiring the introduction of measures which might not be popular. Quite frankly, the Speech recognises the electoral position. We have no desire to evade the situation. I think that what the Prime Minister said yesterday in another place about the Iron and Steel Act is the only sensible and practical thing that could be said at the present time. In the negotiations which took place not many months ago concerning the insertion of certain dates in the Bill, it was agreed that the Minister should not appoint the Corporation before October 1. The Act does not say that he is bound to appoint the Corporation on October 1; it says that he shall not appoint the Corporation before that date. I remember the noble 108 Viscount giving assurances somewhat to this effect (I am not pretending to use the actual words): "If you come back after the next Election we shall regard it as a determined issue."
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
The object of putting in "October 1" was that we knew that an Election must be held before October 1. The object was to ensure that the people of the country should have the chance of expressing an opinion at the Election as to whether they wanted steel nationalised or not. It was understood that both sides would abide by the result of the Election. If the people gave a majority in favour of nationalisation then, of course, the Government would proceed with the Iron and Steel Act and appoint the Corporation on October 1. But as a large majority of the electors, whatever else they did, voted against nationalisation, it certainly would be my interpretation of the understanding between us that nothing should be done.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
I can assure the noble Viscount that we propose to behave like sensible people. At the same time, let me remind him that you cannot have the benefit of both systems at the same time. It simply will not work.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
I assure the noble Viscount that we shall not do anything foolish; but he is trying to get the best of both worlds, and I am not going to let him. We have a system of election of Members of Parliament. At the present moment a majority of Members of Parliament—true, a very small majority—support the Iron and Steel Act. That is a true statement. You cannot say, "We will abide by that system of election of Members of Parliament," and then, if you do not like the results, go back to the country and count all the votes given to every other Party.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
If that is so, presumably this small majority of Members of Parliament also support the nationalisation of sugar and cement, and the emasculation, or whatever the phrase is, of insurance. The Government accept that they have no mandate to go forward with these nationalisation measures; 109 why, then, do they consider they have a mandate to carry or and appoint a Steel Board?
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
This Act was on the Statute Book. I must repeat that noble Lords cannot have it both ways. We have our system of elected Members of Parliament, and it is their job, whatever the majority, to carry on the business of the country according to their lights. You cannot take all the people who voted against Labour and say that they voted against this Act. I am not going to agree to that argument. At the same time I have nothing to add to what my noble friend said on the subject. We have given effective recognition to facts in the King's Speech: we are not proposing to introduce anything acutely controversial unless something emerges in connection with the requirements of full employment or something of that kind. In that case our action would be in accordance with the statement in the King's Speech.
I wish the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, would get out of the habit of thinking that we are such shocking people. He cannot get out of his head the idea that we are out to thwart the liberties of the people. I took down two or three of his phrases. I am bound to admit that they are a little familiar. One of them was that we were "in favour of a machine that would control all our rights and liberties." I took down those words, and there were several others of a like nature. I really do ask the noble Marquess, with great courtesy, to try to forget that kind of thing. We are not in the least out to do that sort of thing.
President Roosevelt said that there should be four freedoms—freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear. Those were his four freedoms. As to the first two, there can he no question. As to freedom from want, I can fairly say—and I am not making a Party point—that there has never in my life been such freedom from want in this country as there is now. With regard to freedom from fear, there is this awful atomic bomb behind us. It is nobody's fault—anyhow, it is not our fault. If the noble Marquess or his friends will ask themselves, say, as between last week and to-day: "Which of my freedoms have actually been interfered with?" they will find it exceedingly difficult to invent any incident in which any 110 of them had been interfered with. We are not that sort of people. It is not our aim—
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I was not referring to the past; I was referring to the future. I quoted an extract from a book which had been written by the Prime Minister which envisaged the disappearance of all private ownership of the means of life. I asked whether the Government stood for that. The noble Viscount replied merely by saying "We have still got some freedoms." I am delighted to hear that that is true.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
I cannot pretend to recollect every phrase used, but amongst the numerous dreadful visions of our tyrannical intentions which the noble Marquess conjured up I managed to gather that one, and it is a fair sample of the rest. Quite frankly, it has no relation to the realities of the case. That is the plain English of it.
May I come to one or two other points? I will pass over what the noble Lord, Lord Elton, and others have said about the possibility of the formation of a National Government. All I have to say on that is that I wit do my best, in concert with the noble Lord (who is not here), to see that adequate time is made available for the Motion which we are told will be introduced. I have no doubt we shall have an interesting discussion. Many of us in this House, sonic of whom are old politicians, know of the difficulties in that connection, but anyhow we shall be glad to hear what the noble Lord has to say. I will reserve any comments I may have until that time arrives. The noble Viscount, Lord Hall, will deal with housing to-morrow.
May I now say something about agriculture, and the speeches of the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, and the noble Lord, Lord Strabotg[...]. First, let me touch on the subject that the noble Earl 111 and I have often talked about. He complains about a good deal of certain speeches by the Minister of Agriculture. I shall take it that his description is correct—I am not challenging that. But then the noble Earl goes on to say that he wants us to co-operate; he wants us to work together in agriculture. I am glad to hear it. But he said that if that is to be possible there must be an end to acrimony and brick-throwing, and all that sort of thing. I think I may fairly ask the noble Lord to apply that lesson to himself. There seemed to be in his own speech a singular absence of the principles of that admirable admonition. The end which he has in view is a good diplomatic approach—namely, friendly co-operation. I could, if I were so minded and so disposed, discuss in a Party manner the claims which are put forward by respective people for securing a guaranteed price. All I have to say on that is this: that one of the most vivid recollections of my political life is the fight that I had for more than six months to persuade the Conservative Party to allow me to pass the Agricultural Marketing Bill through Parliament. It was Liberal support that I received all through.
For months upstairs we met with relentless opposition from the Conservative Party. As a matter of fact, I think the final change of tone in that controversy was effected by two things: first, a good many of the friends of the noble Earl came to the conclusion that the scheme was right. That was one thing which was a potent factor. Another was the intervention of the Scotsmen. For months, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I had been standing upstairs and I noticed a body of men who were at the end of the room; they seemed to attend with unfailing regularity. One day they came to me and complained. The whole of the morning probably had been spent on one word. They said they thought this formation of marketing boards was rather a good idea. It turned out that they were a delegation from the Scottish National Farmers' Union and they were all good sound Tories. They asked me what they could do to help. I said: "What you had better do is go to the Chief Conservative Whip and tell him what you think about it." They did. I may tell 112 you that shortly afterwards the opposition became less marked. That was my experience of the Bill. I asked these men one day, when we had a friendly talk after a meeting: "What did you do to make this considerable change in the attitude of the other Party to the Bill?" They said: "We told the Chief Whip that unless he called off his dogs there would not be a Tory seat left in Scotland." I think that is talking sense and that is actually what happened. That was the kind of friendly co-operation I received from the Tories when I tried to make possible a guaranteed price system. That is true. I am glad that noble Lords have thought better of it" There is more joy in Heaven over one sinner that repenteth." There will be no acrimony from our side.
As to what is said about marginal land, the noble Earl knows very well the difficulty there. I should take his acreage about what is economically usable as about right. I can tell him that we shall spare no effort and he will have nothing to complain of as to lack of energy. We are going on with this programme. I agree that several of the proposals in the gracious Speech are quite modest proposals. That is because we have felt it was right that, as a result of the Election, we should carry on the business of governing, so far as we could, with the avoidance of acute controversy. That is a purpose that we shall keep clearly before us. I sincerely hope that, as usual, this will set a good example of the way things should be dealt with under such strange and unusual conditions as now exist.
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ LORD CALVERLEY
My Lords, I promise I will not keep you long, but the debate on the Address has always provided an occasion for the back-benchers, especially in another place, because the liberty of complete debate is afforded to us. I have put most of my speech in my pocket, because I should like to refer to what Lord Elton and also the Archbishop of York said. During the General Election, when there were thousands of meetings, the issue of peace and war was constantly before the electors' minds. In accord with British tradition, the electors of all Parties were not panic-stricken, and the general effect of Russia upon the electorate can be seen in the number of 113 people who voted for the one hundred candidates who put up for the Communist Party. Nevertheless, I do regret the absence of the time-honoured phrase to which we used to listen in the gracious Speech, in days which now seem long ago, when the Sovereign said, "My relations with foreign Powers continue to be friendly." We cannot say that to-day, but we can say, not simply for this House but for the ordinary man and woman in the street, that they are wanting peace, but not peace at any price. When I consider that thirteen men may have the destinies of thirteen hundred million people in their hands, I agree with what the Lord Chancellor said: that we will not spare any opportunity, orthodox or unorthodox, to endeavour to come to an understanding with those who are preventing an agreement at the present time.
As to the other items in the King's Speech, I would point out that we could expect little more in the way of legislation than we can read in that Speech. Noble Lords opposite complain that there is no reference to steel. Why should there be any reference to steel? It is now the subject of an Act of Parliament. There was no need to mention it. The vesting day is January 1 or next year, and we can wait and see what happens in the meantime. It has been said that we have no mandate for the Steel Act, but in every steel centre Labour candidates received great majorities.
It would appear that they take it, at any rate in those centres, that the Steel Act is an Act of Parliament, to be implemented when the present Government think fit and proper. There are opponents opposite who have complained because there is nothing about the nationalisation of cement and sugar. It would have been inopportune to have over-loaded the King's Speech, but I would remind your Lordships that the question of sugar has been made a live issue by the head of the great sugar combine, Lord Lyle. He is making it a live issue and I suggest to His Majesty's Government that they cannot disregard the amount of money that is being spent—it may shareholders' money, it may be public money—by the sugar monopoly.
I suggest, not only with regard to sugar but also with regard to cement, that His Majesty's Government should set up a departmental committee of inquiry of one 114 sort or another in order that the people of this country shall get to know the truth about those industries. In the meantime, we can leave Lord Lyle to cuddle his rubber dolly which I believe is now on show in some part of London.
It has been rightly said by some Front Bench speakers that this is a great opportunity for the Administration to obtain breathing space to Administer. I want to ask my noble friends on the Front Bench to bring to the attention of the Food Minister the considered opinion both of retail and wholesale grocers—I speak for the North at any rate, after making inquiries myself—that practically all the commodities which are now on points can come off points. It would weary your Lordships if I mentioned particular items, but I ask the Food Minister to review the whole position of goods that are now on points and so lighten the burden of the grocer, but, of course, to keep rationed goods, particularly sugar and butter, as they are. He can even make a gesture with regard to margarine, because people are not buying it as they should. With regard to sugar, the Ministry of Food have been too generous in their allocation for what we call confectionery at the expense of people, especially north of the Trent, who need more sugar because they do their own home baking. This is a somewhat humdrum point, but if the Minister of Food could increase by four ounces a week the amount of sugar per person for home consumption, he would be doing a job well worth while.
The Board of Trade might take a little time to think over some of their development schemes. There is one in particular upon which there has been a very important conference in Church House—namely, wool. I wish the Board of Trade would take notice that they cannot always sit on the fence. They must declare a policy as to the buying and distribution of wool. Since the Russians and the U.S.A. have become greater buyers of wool the price has rocketed to a terrible extent, and wool now may be marketed in Australia, in particular, instead of in London. There is no reason in the world why that wool should not be marketed in Australia, but there are 200,000 people employed in the wool industry in this country, and those people need at least 3,500,000 bales of Australian wool per year, ready to be used. That is a point I 115 hope the Board of Trade will keep in mind.
I was tempted to make a reply to the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, but he has gone now—I hope to a better place; he is going to have a good dinner, I trust. If there is a noble Lord in this House who during a General Election can hit hard, especially when he has a meeting to address, complaining about the Minister of Agriculture, it is Lord De La Warr. But he is getting too thin-skinned. The noble Earl even claims credit for what was done under the Coalition during the war. What happened was that Mr. Hudson got together a team which included Mr. Tom Williams and the Duke of Norfolk. They made up a trinity which worked together and after "pinching" the Labour programme they implemented it. But it is no use going back on that now. I had made a few more notes, but I will not deliver the rest of the speech of which I have been thinking; it would be cruelty to your Lordships to go on speaking at this late hour. But I do want to say this to His Majesty's Government. The initiative of government rests with them. I trust they are not going to allow that initiative to pass to any Opposition—especially to a Liberal Opposition. We remember what took place in 1929 and 1931. But we are in a majority now, and we were not in 1929 and 1931. We are backed by a greater number of voters than has ever supported us at the poll before in the history of this country. His Majesty's Government should retain the initiative and use it to the full. If they do not do so, the people who have sent them hack to Parliament will suffer from a sense of frustration. But I have such confidence in the Government, that I believe they will rise to the occasion.
§ Moved, That the debate be now adjourned.—(Viscount Swinton.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly.