§ 2.37 p.m.
§ Debate resumed (according to Order) on the Motion moved on Tuesday by the Earl of Rothes—namely, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty as followeth:
§ "Most Gracious Sovereign․We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the most gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament."
§ LORD HENDERSON
My Lords, the debate so far has ranged almost exclusively over the items in the second part of the Speech from the Throne. I should like to direct the attention of noble Lords to some of the earlier paragraphs, which deal with foreign policy. Before doing so, however, I should like to make two personal observations. We are beginning 106 a new Session, and we on these Benches are glad to see that the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary are back in their high offices and have resumed their seats in another place. They seem to me to have made considerable progress in the recovery of their health, and we hope that the improvement will continue until, to use a colloquialism, they are their own selves again. I do not know whether it is in order, but I should like to congratulate the noble Marquess the Leader of the House on being relieved of the additional duties which fell to him during the absence of his two distinguished colleagues. We know that the noble Marquess assumed those responsibilities with that sense of public service which is characteristic of him, and I feel that I shall not be out of order in saying that we congratulate him on now being free to devote himself to his own direct responsibilities.
We on these Benches welcome the statement of Her Majesty's Government that they are resolved "to work constantly in harmony with the Government of the United States." If there is one self-evident fact in international life, it is that Anglo-American unity and co-operation are the indispensable pre-conditions of security and well-being for the free West. There are, of course—and it is just as well that we should frankly recognise the fact—differences of emphasis, of timing and of attitude, and sometimes they seem serious differences. They are there, but we should not seek to exaggerate or exacerbate them, because basically the two Governments and the two peoples are broadly in harmony and are seeking the same objectives.
I recently had the privilege of making a short visit to the United States to attend the Inter-Parliamentary Union Conference at Washington. I do not intend to embark upon reminiscences, but I mention this because I have brought back with me an impression which I believe has a bearing on the differences of attitude of the British and American public towards some of our present world problems. What impressed me strongly during my limited visit, in contrast to the atmosphere in Britain, was a sense of fear, despite complete confidence and pride in the enormous strength and power of the United States. I do not wish to suggest that I found any Americans panicky 107 or defeatist; that would be the reverse of the truth. The sense of fear had arisen out of an appreciation of a great danger to the nerve centres of the United States, and a belief that, so long as present international tensions remained unrelaxed and the cold war persisted, the danger might not be so remote or academic as people would wish it. The impending danger from which this fear sprang was a sudden and unannounced atom bombing attack. We in this country are more vulnerable to such an attack, yet the possibility disturbs us less—at least, that is firmly my impression. Perhaps we are more phlegmatic than the Americans—though I agree that that is not a very plausible suggestion; perhaps we are inured to possible danger because of our geographical relationship to the Continent and our historical experiences.
On the other hand, perhaps it is because our memories revert almost automatically to the outbreak of the Second World War and the expectation of immediate air raids which were somewhat deferred; whereas American memories tend to revert to the sudden and secret air attack on Pearl Harbour before a declaration of war and at a time when negotiations were still proceeding. I think the experience of Pearl Harbour has left a sear on American consciousness which has not been healed. Americans are resolved that there shall not be another and more terrible Pearl Harbour. Then, too, it may be because of the great space which American newspapers have been able to devote to pictures, reports and discussions of atom bomb tests and developments, the American public are more atom bomb conscious than we are. Whatever the reason, there is this difference of attitudes on the two sides of the Atlantic. We regard the danger as less imminent or less probable, or we are more fatalistic or less imaginative. It is not my purpose to argue which attitude is right. I wish simply to present it as a fact, and an important fact, appreciation of which may help towards a better understanding between our two countries.
In my opinion, it is this same sense of fear in its most extreme and unreasoning form which has produced in America the deplorable political witch-hunting 108 associated with Senator McCarthy. It springs from a deep and at times hysterical longing for security against the real or imaginary machinations of the agents of the Kremlin, and it is one reason why the American society which has produced some of the finest examples of enlightened liberalism has also produced McCarthyism. I have stressed this sense of fear without trying to evaluate it, because, in my view, it is a fact which exists and must be taken account of. If in this country the fear is less, yet it hovers in the back of our minds and at times pushes its way to the fore. In varying measure and degree this fear is prevalent throughout the world to-day. I believe that the Prime Minister, in a memorable passage in his speech on the Address, in which he dealt with the hazards of the atomic age and posed the choice for the nations of the world as between mass annihilation and expansive abundance, was the spokesmen of a humanity which is at once fearful and hopeful. It is the supreme task of statesmanship to find ways of banishing, or at least alleviating, that fear, so that (to recall the words of the Atlantic Charter)all the men in all the lands may live out their lives in freedom from fear and want.We on these Benches, therefore, warmly welcome the declaration of Her Majesty's Government that theywill continue to regard the relaxation of international tensions and the preservation of peace as prime objects of their policy,and thatto this end they are persisting in their efforts to bring about an early meeting between the Soviet Union and the three Western Powers.The methods of diplomacy and negotiation are varied and intricate. Most of them have been brought into operation during the past few years with, unhappily, little concrete result. But, if I may use diplomatic, or perhaps it is political, language, there is one avenue which has not been adequately explored. The Foreign Secretary in another place reverted to a medical metaphor. Referring to Trieste, he argued that it was necessary "to lance the abscess." Surely this world-wide incubus of fear demands radical treatment. That is why the Prime Minister on May 11 prescribed radical treatment. We on these Benches, the House will recall, in a debate which we had immediately prior to the Summer 109 Recess, welcomed the Prime Minister's proposals. There was a vast public opinion in many countries which believed that the Prime Minister was right in his sense of timing and in his desire to seize the opportunity for a conference at the highest level, which might establish—and I use his own words:that personal acquaintance and relationship which had often proved a help rather than a hindrance.The omens may not have seemed very favourable, but there seemed sufficient common ground on which to base some hope that the attempt might not be completely unsuccessful.
What is the common ground? I suggest three points. First of all, the universal need for peace; second, the possibility of, to use the current jargon, peaceful co-existence; and, third, the recognition that there is no international problem which cannot be solved by peaceful means. That may not seem much, but it is a beginning, and if there could be added to it a system of security that would provide effective two-way guarantees, a top-level conference might be able to create an atmosphere of greater confidence, or less mistrust, as well as a measure of agreement on desirable objectives which would enable the Foreign Ministers to make headway on particular problems.
It has been argued against the Prime Minister's proposal that, should a top-level conference fail, the position would be worse than before. There is, of course, substance in that argument—but it applies to a conference at any level and not only to one at the top level. For supposing a Foreign Ministers' Conference, if it had taken place, had turned out to be a total failure, is it not a virtual certainty that the prospect for a top-level conference would have vanished? The Prime Minister said only two days ago [OFFICIAL, REPORT, Commons, Vol. 520, No. 1, col. 29]:…one must not overlook the risk of such a Four-Power Conference ending in a still worse deadlock than exists at present.I refuse to believe that this thought has just come into the Prime Minister's mind. I am confident that it was a possibility he took account of when he formulated his proposal of May 11; and, having taken it into account, he decided, on balance, that it was a risk worth taking in a new 110 initiative to break the deadlock. The fact is, as we all know, that the three Western Allies did not proceed with the Prime Minister's proposal. They chose instead to go for a Four-Power Conference at Foreign Ministers' level. The recent Note sent by the Allies was a great improvement on the earlier and I agree with the Prime Minister's description of it as a "conciliatory invitation." It showed a recognition that the need was for flexibility and not for a mere reiteration of fixed positions.
The three Western Governments now have the Soviet reply. All that is available to the public so far is the partial text which was published in The Times this morning. A preliminary study of that partial text seems, in my judgment, to warrant the conclusion that the Russian reply is negative, unhelpful and, indeed, frustrating. It appears to be full of pre-conditions for a conference. The alternative conference suggested is a Five-Power Conference, to include Communist China. But does anyone believe that such a conference has any chance of being held before a Korean Peace Settlement? Is their proposal a stalling tactic? Or are they trying to exploit the differences in the West regarding the proposed top-level Four-Power Conference? Bearing in mind the protracted negotiations for a Korean truce, and now for the Political Conference, he would be a bold man, or a foolish one, who would prophesy the date by which there will be a Korean Peace Settlement. Then the Soviet leaders seem to threaten that they will not participate in the Korean Conference unless neutrals are included; and they hint that the Conference will not succeed unless it is first agreed that Communist China is given full international recognition and rights. They object to the three Western Allies meeting together. The Western Allies are called upon to scrap the Paris and Bonn Treaties; E.D.C. is called a "war-like group"; and they deny that N.A.T.O. is following defensive aims, despite the fact that both organisations are regional defence groups within the Charter of the United Nations. The Western Allies are required to undo their constructive policy towards Germany; the Russians renew their demand for a return to Potsdam; and they insist on an all-German Government being formed before free all-German elections can take 111 place. There may be other conditions which I have not noted.
All this means that the West is to undertake great concessions before the Communists will be prepared to negotiate the relaxation of international tension. The Prime Minister wanted free discussion without prior conditions. The Russians want impossible conditions accepted before there can be any conference. That seems to me a fair summary of the portion of the Russian Note which I have been able to read. It is a very discouraging reply, my Lords; it seems to mean that German unity and the Austrian State Treaty are relegated to the indefinite future and that there is no early prospect of a conference between East and West. I regret that the Russians have not seen their way to accept the invitation of the three Western Powers.
I must say frankly that I myself have not been optimistic about getting the Russians into a conference on Germany at this stage. It has seemed to me that in view of the great outbreak of workers' resistance in June, the results of the recent Federal German elections, and the widespread troubles which apparently continue to harass the Communist authorities in the Eastern Zone, the Soviet Leaders were hardly likely to regard the early future as an opportune time to enter a conference to deal primarily with the problem of German reunification. Their negotiating position has been seriously weakened.
But in view of the rejection by the Russians of the proposal for a Foreign Ministers Conference, what is to happen? Are we going to let the matter rest there, or will the Prime Minister seek to renew the impetus for a top-level conference? The Prime Minister has told us that he is in touch with President Eisenhower. I suggest that what is needed is the three Western leaders' conference, which was planned for Bermuda and which could not take place. It should take place in Washington instead, as soon as is practicable. The West must get back the initiative. We must not allow Communist tactics to hold us at bay. I would therefore renew the suggestion that on his way to Washington the Prime Minister should attend the United Nations Assembly and make in that unique forum 112 another solemn appeal, on behalf of the whole human family, that the leaders of Russia and the leaders of the three Western nations get together to sec whether they cannot make a start in opening the road to real peace and security for all. There is no living man who can better express the simple aspirations of the peoples of the world. There is no world statesman whose words would make such a universal impact. It would be difficult even for the Russians to ignore such an appeal, delivered from such a forum and carrying with it, as it would, the moral backing of the vast majority of the nations. I beg the Prime Minister not to be daunted by the new difficulties which the Russians have created, otherwise we may all have to wait a long time for the relief for which mankind is yearning.
My Lords, I should like now to say a word about Korea, to which reference is made in the Speech from the Throne. When the question of a Political Conference came before the United Nations last August, it seemed to involve a knowledge of joinery. There were partisans of a round table, and partisans of an oblong table; and it was right that Britain should have been among the former. Unfortunately, our American Allies were among the latter—perhaps partly, as has been suggested, because of the difficulties they were having with South Korea, but largely, I am sure, out of a sincere conviction that a two-sided conference would be better than a round-table conference. It was regrettable that these two views could not be reconciled but came to a vote at last in the Political Committee of the United Nations. The issue was by that time narrowed to the question of Indian representation, as the United States had withdrawn its opposition to Russian participation. The voting was twenty-seven in favour of India's taking part, and twenty-one against, with eleven abstentions. There was not, therefore, a two-thirds majority for Indian participation, but since the contrary votes were largerly mustered from the Latin-American countries, the opposing minority was in a morally weak position.
I have recalled this sequence of events not through any desire to reopen the breach or to challenge the final outcome of this regrettable affair at the United 113 Nations. My purpose is to show that, although India eventually withdrew her candidature, and although there was not a formal two-thirds majority in favour of India's participation, the desire of the majority of the United Nations, including most of the nations which had taken part in United Nations' action in Korea, was clearly expressed and widely known. It seems to me that this is a factor which it is reasonable to expect the United States, acting as representative of the United Nations in the preliminary talks being held at Panmunjom, to take into account. I believe that that is happening. It seems to be indicated in the announcement of the State Department last week envisaging the possibility of India's attending the Political Conference in Korea as an observer. It was to be expected that the Communists would raise at the preliminary talks the question of the composition of the Political Conference. It was an obvious tactic to exploit the rift which appeared so publicly in the United Nations' camp. Accordingly, slow progress at Panmunjom was also to be expected. On the ether hand, the time for the opening of the Political Conference, according to the recommendation of the political truce, has already elapsed. While patience is essential, as we learned from experience of the truce negotiations, I hope there will be general agreement that this question of the composition of the Political Conference should not be allowed to lead to a deadlock that will frustrate completely the holding of the Political Conference. I hope that it is in that spirit that Her Majesty's Government, to use the words of the Address:are co-operating in efforts to bring about a Political Conference on Korea.We welcome also the assurance that Her Majesty's Governmentwill continue to work for a settlement of the problem of German unity…and will…maintain their efforts for the conclusion a of an Austrian State Treaty.We, like Her Majesty's Government, are anxious to see these two objectives attained as speedily as possible. In present circumstances, it may be of interest to noble Lords to know that the Annual Conference of the Party to which we on these Benches belong recently 114 passed a resolution on foreign policy in which the following passage appears:Conference deplores the refusal of the Soviet Union hitherto to permit free elections in Eastern Germany and its obstruction of the Austrian Treaty; and urges the Government to seek by negotiation the following objectives:I cite this extract because it shows to all—I repeat, "all"—interested parties that on the problem of German unity and the Austrian demand for a State Treaty, British policy is British in the widest sense.
- (1) the conclusion of the Austrian State Treaty;
- (2) German reunification through the creation of a single German Government on the basis of free elections throughout Germany;
- (3) a German Peace Treaty, concluded with a freely elected German Government, providing effective guarantees for Germany's territorial integrity and independence, and against any forcible attempt by Germany at territorial revision."
The Address from the Throne states that:The North Atlantic Alliance is fundamental to My Government's policy and they will do their utmost to keep it vital and strong.It also states that:They hope to see the early establishment of the European Defence Community and will afford it all possible support.Here again, I quote from the Labour Conference resolution to which I have just referred. The Conference went on record that itmaintains its full support for N.A.T.O. as a limited system of collective security.and thatBritain should place no obstacle in the way of those countries that wish to establish supranational institutions, and should seek the closest possible association with each community that may be formed.These two quotations indicate the broad harmony between Her Majesty's Government and the official Opposition regarding Western collective defence and European integration. At the same time, it is only right that I should mention that the Labour Conference resolution urged that:there should be no German rearmament before further efforts have been made to secure the peaceful reunification of Germany.We are all, I believe, gratified by the progress that, according to General Gruenther and Lord Ismay, has been made in the build-up of Western defence affairs under 115 N.A.T.O. On the other hand, progress towards the adoption of the E.D.C. continues to be slow, and its future remains uncertain. It is unfortunate, not only because it leaves in the air the question of a German contribution to collective Western defence, but also because of its long-term significance to Continental integration.
A particular merit of E.D.C., which no alternative that I have heard mentioned possesses, is that it not only provides for a regulated and controlled German armed contribution to integrated Western defence forces but, at the same time, excludes the creation of independent German armed forces which might bring the risk of a revival of the old German military machine and spirit of militarism. Every nation in Europe, East and West, including the German nation itself, is apprehensive of the danger that would threaten them all if there were a restoration of independent German national forces, with the old type of German General Staff, and with military leaders again playing a political rôle in the affairs of their nation. That is a fear which the Soviet Government seeks to turn in support of its own policy for Germany. The European significance of the recent Federal German elections was not only that the people want their country reunited in freedom, but that they want to be an active partner in integrated European defence. This popular decision by Federal Germany is of considerable importance. But the European Defence Community has still a long way to go before it can become a reality. French hesitations and reservations remain a source of disconcerting delay, and it seems clear that French approval cannot be forthcoming before the early spring, if indeed it is forthcoming then. There is, therefore, no possibility of a German armed contribution for months to come, nor is there any ground for alleging the provocation of a fait accompli which the Russians seem to do.
In view of the statement in the Speech from the Throne, I was somewhat surprised to read the words used by the Prime Minister less than a month ago. He said:If E.D.C. should not be adopted by the French we shall have no choice but to fall in with some new arrangement which will join the strength of Germany to the Western Allies 116 through some rearrangement of the forces of N.A.T.O.Whether that was an attempt to push the French or a case of thinking aloud I do not know, but it seemed to me that the statement was almost certain to do harm rather than good. It appears to have caused irritation in France and raised doubts in Germany. It certainly seems to me unwise and ill-timed to propound a possible alternative to E.D.C. while expressing the hope of seeing its early establishment and promising to afford it all possible assistance.
I should like to ask the noble Marquess who is replying to this portion of the debate what is meant by the words "The Government will afford E.D.C. all possible assistance." His colleague, Mr. Nutting stated at Strasbourg in September thatwhen E.D.C. comes into force, our partnership with it will be closer than anything we have known before.He went on to say that the proposals for British association are still being discussed with the six Governments, and for that reason they could not be disclosed, but—and here again I quote—they envisage something even closer than the relationship we hold with the High Authority of the Coal and Steel Community.That is an important statement, and since it was made there has been another meeting of the Council of Ministers of the European Defence Community. I should like to ask: was final agreement reached on the British proposals? If so, cannot Parliament be told what proposals have been made and what accepted? Parliament has been very considerate, and rightly so, while these protracted negotiations have been going on. I submit that it is now time for us to be told what the Government are proposing to do. I therefore make a request for information, and I ask the noble Marquess to be good enough to note my request and to use the opportunity when he comes to reply to take the House into the confidence of the Government.
I should like to say just this before I sit down. There is a great need and a great opportunity for British leadership in the world to-day. In a recent speech the Foreign Secretary said:Our first aim is to maintain the unity and strength of the Western Alliance. Secondly, we are determined to keep our Alliance defensive in character, to indulge in no provocation, and to take advantage of every opportunity to settle difficulties and to solve disputes.117 Those are aims which we all support. We should press on with them, and not weary in our efforts to bring about talks. We have experienced many disappointments, of which the Soviet reply is but the latest. I hope the Government will not be deterred from trying again; that they will take the initiative, and not merely wait on events. If they follow that course they will have a united nation behind them.
§ 3.15 p.m.
§ LORD LAYTON
My Lords, as I listened to the gracious Speech delivered from the Throne with such charm and dignity two days ago, the paragraph relating to external affairs suggested to my mind two slightly conflicting thoughts: one was the tremendous change, compared with pre-war days, in the structure and substance of our international relations—the change that lies behind the formal words; the other was that we had heard all the formulæ several times before. On reflection, however, this paradox is to be explained by the fact that the tremendous change in structure and international practice brought about by the war had, in the main, taken shape before the Labour Government left office, and that the present Government has inherited a framework of international policy whose details will develop and change from time to time but whose outline will remain constant.
In our own family of nations, for example, three great Asiatic States had voluntarily become members of the Commonwealth; the evolution of the Commonwealth Empire was in full swing; meetings of Colonial and Commonwealth Ministers, from Prime Ministers downwards, had become more frequent, and common action was growing in regard to finance and trade. Or, to take the United Nations, the United Nations had grown up. It had passed the supreme test of war—indeed it had almost finished the war, for the armistice talks were already four months old before the Conservative Government came into office. Take the United States. What is sometimes called the Atlantic Alliance was in fact in being—perhaps the most startling change of all as against pre-war days. In Europe, many new organs had come into existence—Western Union; O.E.E.C.; the Council of Europe, with 118 Germany first an associate and then a full member; the Schuman Pool Treaty was in draft and signed, though not yet ratified; and in September, 1951, a month before the Election, the British Government, through the mouth of Mr. Herbert Morrison, had approved the organisation of a Community of Six and expressed the view that Britain should be associated with it at all stages as closely as possible.
The Conservative Government inherited this startling new framework of international affairs. Its duty was to clothe this skeleton with flesh and blood, to make it a living organism, capable of maintaining order in the world. How far has it succeeded? How far is this new structure being utilised for that purpose? In the corresponding debate two years ago, just after the Government came into office, I ventured to warn the House that Britain was soon to be asked by Europe to explain what it meant by "close association." In fact, that happened a fortnight later at Strasbourg. The House will remember the disappointment that was caused when it was realised that, in the main, for the moment at all events, the order was "no change." It led in fact to the resignation of the President of the Assembly of the Council of Europe, and caused much confusion in Strasbourg.
After that bad start, however, things began to change and the situation improved somewhat. The substance in the arrangements being made in matters of defence began to be appreciated, and the undertakings which were being put forward appeared in the White Paper on the Lisbon Conference. Then in March, 1952, perhaps the most considerable contribution to the development of this international structure was made, when the Eden Plan was put before the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, a plan designed to ensure that these partial groupings should be kept under the one umbrella of the Council of Europe. That proposition was of the utmost importance, otherwise there would have been a tendency for Europe, already divided by the Iron Curtain, to be further split into a series of groups, with the development of all the weaknesses of division. Shortly after that important contribution, the six Powers began to draft their political community concept, and it then emerged that 119 the six-Power concept was in all minds very much qualified when it came to the point of the close association of the six Powers, and in particular of the two key countries, France and Germany, without Great Britain. Hence the discussions on the drafting of the constitution that had been going on in the winter of 1952–53 showed considerable movement from the conception of fully-fledged federation, and safeguards were introduced in respect of national interests.
On paper, the progress made in 1953 has not been at all bad. The Coal and Steel Pool has come into being. In this case, the concept of the Eden Plan—that the separate groupings should be related to the whole group—has been carried into effect through the joint Assembly meetings of the Coal and Steel Community and that of the Council of Europe. The Human Rights Convention—the first task undertaken in 1949 by the Council of Europe—came into operation two months ago, in the first week of September this year; this country is at this moment committed to accepting the judgment of a two-thirds majority of the Council of Ministers in matters arising in connection with a certain number of the simplest and most vital of human rights: habeas corpus, the right to live, the right to free speech and so on. Finally, the Council of Europe, in September, undertook a task which, clearly, it had eventually to undertake—that is to say, an international debate on foreign policy, including, in particular, the relations of Europe as a whole to Russia. Thus, the European groupings are moving towards their constitutional and natural functions.
The noble Lord, Lord Henderson, nevertheless, is right when he says that there is a feeling of disappointment, and that feeling was voiced very clearly in another place a fortnight ago during the debate on the Council of Europe. Though E.D.C. has been ratified by Germany, and though only last week the hands of President Adenauer were further strengthened in the Upper House in Germany as a result of the elections in Hamburg, which ensures that he can carry through his programme, France still hesitates, and delay continues. In these circumstances, we are forced, I 120 think, to put two questions. First, is the Six-Power organisation which has evolved in the last two or three years in Europe basically right, or are we pursuing a wrong course? Should we reverse the engines and endeavour to bring European defence under N.A.T.O., or not? Secondly—and this is a point pertaining particularly to our debate this afternoon—is it mistimed? Should we hold up our efforts to secure the coming into effect of the European Defence Community?
I believe that the answer to both those questions is emphatically "No." I believe, and I suggest to your Lordships, that this composite structure, a structure of the Six Powers, with Britain and other countries associated with it, though not on precisely the same terms, is, in fact, the correct structure related to the facts of the present day. I do not propose to elaborate that issue. I have already referred to it several times in speeches on the subject. As I have indicated, I believe this to be the right structure, in spite of its apparent illogicality, and in spite of the fact that it is so mixed. I believe it to be right for Britain because it is a natural way in which to harmonise our links with Europe, and our natural links with the Continent. I believe that it is right for our Continental neighbours, that it is right for France, that it is right for Germany.
M. Robert Schuman, who has played such a very great part in all these important developments, was in England the other day, and he spoke publicly in Cambridge on the evolution of unity in Europe. He put most forcibly and succinctly the reasons why it is in the interests of France to take a risk and accept the E.D.C. Treaty. Lord Henderson has already referred to the General Staff aspect of the situation; but M. Schuman also particularly underlined the economic aspects of E.D.C.; that is to say, the control of, and conditions created in regard to, munitions production. The Treaty has many paragraphs relating to this problem. M. Schuman insisted on the importance to France of the interlocking of munitions production: instead of leaving the Ruhr to become a self-contained and complete unit in itself, aircraft engines can be obtained, perhaps, from overseas, airframes from 121 somewhere else. Specialisation can become a source of security. The interdependence of munitions production can be ensured under the Treaty.
Atomic energy will also be subject to the Defence Community. The importance of that, and of the control of research, is obviously enormous. It is an undertaking which, if E.D.C. becomes effective, will have been voluntarily accepted by Germany. To the suggestion that, while this may be sound on paper, it may suffer the same fate as munitions control after the First World War, there is an important answer which I believe has not been appreciated in this country—namely, that though we shall not have occupation troops in Germany, members of a European Army, including non-German personnel, will be stationed there and will know what is going on. These are aspects of security for France which are very important. But, of course, much depends upon Britain's answer and upon our link with the European Defence Community to which the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, referred a moment ago. This is a matter which naturally is of intense interest to this country and to both Houses of Parliament.
I can imagine technical reasons why it might be regarded as not very suitable immediately to give full particulars of what we propose to do, even if it had been arranged. When we consider the political situation in France it is clear that our agreement might be a definite determining factor on the problem of ratification. But if our proposals are to come out bit by bit over a period of several months, their impact on decisions which may be taken next March or April will certainly be much less than if they are produced as a complete scheme for fortifying and supporting France. Nevertheless, it is not difficult to imagine the nature of the undertakings that may be given.
This question has been discussed before and it is possible for anyone who reads the Eden Plan to see that our association must take place in the three spheres of Ministerial, Parliamentary and Executive organs of the community. It means that so far as Ministerial control is concerned—and that is where top-level decisions are taken—Britain would be represented in the Committee of Ministers when matters affecting Britain are being considered. 122 Many of our French friends are satisfied with that, because, as one of them put it simply, that means Britain will be represented all the time, for practically nothing will happen in the European Defence Community in which Britain is not interested; she will therefore always be at the side of France. It was in that sense that the French delegation, and particularly the Socialist part of that delegation, which is the key from the point of view of ratification, welcomed Mr. Nutting's declaration when it was made at Strasbourg.
I will pass briefly to the second question. Should we postpone the effort of pressing ahead with the European Defence Community because of the chance of a Four-Power Meeting with Russia, or because, as has been said, it might increase instead of diminishing international tension? To that question I also give an emphatic negative. I do not propose to follow the details of the Russian answer just published. As the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, has pointed out, it is not a final translation. It is an extremely elaborate document and, as we have found before, translations of Russian documents have often to be modified, and this reply must be studied carefully. But I would make three comments. If, as suggested in some quarters, it is thought that Germany should be demilitarised for five years in order to give time for the development of a world disarmament scheme, then, on the basis of all past experience, that idea must be rejected. We have the example of what happened when the same thing was done after the 1914–18 war. Germany was disarmed, with the promise and under the expectation that that was a preliminary to general disarmament. Fifteen years afterwards a Disarmament Conference met but nothing happened. The expectation that we are going to get world disarmament effectively carried out in any short space of time has no backing in recent history.
There are those who think that there should be a delay foe a short time, just long enough to bring about a meeting at top level in the hope of negotiating the, union of Germany and free elections. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, that the Russian Note published this morning shows that this is an illusion. If I read it aright, it is clear that as a 123 condition of a meeting Russia is imposing a definite veto on the freedom of Germany to associate with the West in any circumstances. The necessary corollary of what Russia said in this Note is that Germany is to be neutralised. That is quite unacceptable. Therefore, if this document represents the point of view of Russia the hope of a Four-Power meeting is receding.
I come to the last reason why I think it would be fatal deliberately to postpone the coming into effect of the E.D.C. and the Political Community, and that is, the state of things in Germany. The German Election is the most amazing phenomenon of recent times. If we cast our minds back over the last thirty or forty years and think of all that has happened, including two bids for world domination, and then realise that in the first week of this September an overwhelming vote was cast by the German people for "a European solution," we must all recognise that something very remarkable has happened. I do not think it would be appropriate to discuss the result of the German Election from the political angle, or in relation to Germany's internal politics; but from the international point of view we must recognise and welcome the result as offering an unexpected and a remarkable opportunity to bring about a solution of the problem of Germany in Europe. We know, too, that the result was largely due to the young German voters.
However, we cannot assume that such a friendly situation towards a European solution will continue indefinitely: bribes from Russia, and changing political events, may tend to alter the climate. And let us not forget that never after a General Election does public opinion remain the same: popular opinion may rise or fall. It is a passing phase, and German opinion is not unlike opinion elsewhere. Moreover, the man chiefly responsible for that vote, Dr. Adenauer, is nearly eighty years of age. We do not know who is going to succeed him, or whether his successor will have the same influence and exert it in the same direction. But, even more marked, is the fact that there is arising in Germany to-day a new generation of young Germans. Young German children who at the time of Hitler were incapable of taking an 124 intelligent interest in public affairs will shortly be of an age to cast a vote; and from then on the in-come of new voters will consist of people who knew not Hitler and whose memory of the war will be faint. We are at this moment vis-à-vis Germany in a position which may be a quickly passing phase, and I submit that it is of the utmost importance that everything should be done to seize this opportunity.
It is important that in this situation we should not repeat the mistakes of the past, but should here and now, while the opportunity is with us, seek to find a place for Germany in the comity of nations where she can develop her resources and use her energies for the common good. The greatest tragedy of the inter-war period was that England and France made concessions to Hitler which they refused to his Socialist and Liberal predecessors. We must not make that same mistake again in 1953 or 1954. Europe can best avoid that tragic blunder by helping the Government of Dr. Adenauer to carry out, and carry out quickly, the mandate it received from the people of Western Germany two months ago. The structure that has been growing in the last two years under our hand is designed for this end. Moreover, on any reasonable calculation it is quite as much in Russia's interest as it is in that of the Western democracies themselves. Let us not turn aside from the road we have chosen to follow a will-o'-the-wisp.
§ 3.45 p.m.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Layton in his interesting speech referred to the difference in the substance and structure of international relations in these days as compared with those that existed before the war. In my view, the great change in the substance and structure of international relations took place when the League of Nations was instituted. No one will more readily realise than the noble Marquess the Leader of the House the difficulties that existed in those days in reconciling the opinions and the proposals which were initiated by the League with the opinions and proposals thought to be good by the individual members of the League. Those difficulties, in my submission, exist in the United Nations to-day, and perhaps to a greater degree. It is difficult, and always will be, to know where United Nations policy begins 125 and ends, and where national policy begins and ends. I believe it is largely due to that fact that we find ourselves faced with some of the difficulties that confront us in the Far Eastern situation to-day.
The Times this morning, in one of the powerful and common-sense leading articles that frequently appear in its columns, under the heading "Faded Hopes," summed up the position as a result of the Russian reply to the recent Note, to which reference has been made in speeches this afternoon, and went on to say:The hopes of a European détente seem to depend on a period—probably a long period—during which neither side makes a rash or provocative move. It is in the Far East, where events are more fluid, that positive moves towards settlements may most profitably be made.That seems to me to be eminently true. The position in the Far East is indeed fluid, and, in present circumstances, is likely to remain so. As the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, said, it is most unfortunate that agreement could not be reached in the United Nations between the different policies as regards the Political Conference arising out of the Korean Armistice. On the one side, were those who supported a round table conference; on the other side, were those who supported what the noble Lord has called an oblong conference and what I prefer to call an across-the-table conference.
The noble Lord in his speech indicated that the American view on this matter might be softened. I sincerely hope that that may be the case, and I feel sure that Her Majesty's Government, by bringing whatever influence they may be able to bring to bear on this situation, will be helping to soften the attitude of the United States. After all, in the original Armistice Agreement the conference was to be summoned not merely for settling the question of Korea, but for settling other questions, too. As I ventured to point out in your Lordships' House before Parliament rose, there were added to the Agreement the little words "et cetera" which, in my submission, suggested that not only all the questions surrounding the settlement of Korea, but also the great strategic questions round which any settlement in the Pacific must revolve, would be 126 settled at that conference. We are to-day at a turning point in the world's history, and I suggest that according to whether or not we proceed on lines which will produce a settlement in the Pacific area, so will either peace or tragedy arrive in the world.
The position in the Pacific area is a strategic one, from the point of view of the countries surrounding those vast waters. China's object is to secure her frontiers against all corners, while Japan's policy will be directed to ensuring a great, future for Japan—and no one can blame her for taking that line. So far as Russia is concerned, she is perennially longing for a warm water port which was denied her in the Mediterranean, and it may well be that she hopes to achieve her ambitions in the Pacific. Surrounding all these problems is the central fact that they can be settled only at a round table conference to which all the nations surrounding the Pacific are summoned.
In the meantime, the question arises, what can be done, if we cannot remove the division in the world which exists to-day, to make sure that that division means co-existence and not war. That is the object we must all have in view. To my mind, the sensible course is to improve East-West trade, and as confidence is restored, so perhaps the arms build-up may be levelled off. Signs are not lacking that the relations between Moscow and Pekin are cool, and if anything could be done to develop a rift, if the West could furnish China with goods that Russia denies to her, or if Japan could be encouraged to do so, the security problem in the Pacific might change its character. I have on previous occasions in your Lordships' House referred to the questions of East-West trade. With your Lordships' permission, I will come back to it for a few moments, basing my remarks on what I have just said—namely, that the sensible course seems to me to be an improved East-West trade, in the hope that it may help international relations. Not long ago the President of the Board of Trade said that our competitive position is not so strong that we can give an inch of advantage to our competitors. In my submission, in relation to trade with China we are giving our competitors much more than an inch.
127 In a speech which I was privileged to make during the summer, I gave your Lordships a resumé of the effects of the United Nations embargo on strategic goods in relation to trade which was taking place or desired between the British commercial community and China. I suggested that Her Majesty's Government, in their embargo policy, were acting more strictly than the other Governments. I should like to-day, if I may, to give a few examples of cases of that nature, and they are these. An order for over £250,000 of small generators for mobile cinema units is at the moment frustrated owing to the refusal of the Board of Trade to grant export licences. A number of firms have orders for various types of compressors, amounting in all to some £650,000, and licences for these again have all been refused, although an export licence for an exactly similar type of compressor has been granted by the Belgian Government. Orders for tool steel have been placed with two British firms to a total of £120,000. Licences have been refused, although there is evidence that Western Germany is supplying China with such products. On that I quote from the Metal Bulletin:France shipped 35,000 tons of steel products to China in the first five months of this year.The Bulletin also gives a detailed list of Western Germany's exports of steel products to China for the first half of this year aggregating over 40,000 tons. In other words that emphasises the point which I desire to make—namely, that Britain is interpreting the United Nations embargo resolution far more strictly than, in the one case, Belgium, in the second case, Germany, and in the third case, France, the main point being that France and Germany are applying the embargo more liberally.
Now I come to another item. An order for over £300,000 worth of the odolites has been supplied from West Germany to China through Hong Kong. An order for a rather smaller quantity of the same item remains at the moment unfulfilled, owing to the Board of Trade's refusal of a licence. Among the orders placed during the recent visit to China of the British Trade Mission is one for passenger cars and buses. It seems to me difficult to justify the inclusion of 128 such items in any strategic embargo. I saw a report in The Times yesterday which reads as follows:New American cars are being sold in China through agents in Japan, according to Mr. W. C. Stevens, general secretary of the Electrical Trades Union, which recently sent a delegation to China. Describing the delegation's visit yesterday, Mr. Stevens said that they saw hardly any British made cars but travelled in several of American manufacture.Presumably those cars arrived through Japan, which is tied up to the American economy. The report in The Times goes on:He commented that this trade, which was presumably in defiance of the ban on the export of strategic goods to China, contrasted strangely with the limitation of British exports to China under the same ban. Other members of the delegation spoke of China's urgent need and desire to import British made textile machinery.The facts which I am submitting to the House are of vital importance in the maintenance of our export trade, and therefore I make no apology to your Lordships for stating them publicly, so that they may receive all the publicity which is their due.
Now I come to the question of Germany. The competition from West Germany to-day is so widely spread that it has penetrated market areas held before the war by French, United States and British industries, in countries in which the three Western Powers have had pre-eminence since the war. In the Far East area, one German industry had more lucrative contracts than it could currently fill, but which it will be able to handle within a very short time. Now, here is a very interesting case in which West Germany is concerned. I did not give the noble Marquess notice that I intended to raise these points, for I did not know that I was going to be here. I apologise to the noble Marquess.
THE PARLIAMENTARY UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS (THE MARQUESS OF READING)
No, I did not have notice.
Virtually no mention has been made of a recent visit to Germany by General Lee Suk. He arrived at Frankfurt recently, at the invitation of the Federal Government. His arrival and stay in Western Germany were treated as if they were top secret. Obviously, General Lee's principal object in going to Frankfurt was to see how much of the 130 million dollars of United 129 Nations aid and the 200 million dollars of United States assistance to South Korea could best be spent. I accept these facts as being true, or I should not, of course, present them to your Lordships. It seems to me an astonishing thing that this gentleman from South Korea should be going to West Germany in order to give business to West Germany from funds for part of which I suppose we are responsible—I refer, of course, to the United Nations aid. Has General Lee been to Britain in order to place some of the business here? If so, information to that effect has not come my way.
There is one other matter that I would mention. Among the smaller electrical equipment for which orders were obtained in Pekin by the British trade mission which went there were the following: over a thousand ¼, ½ and 1 h.p. electric motors, generating sets of 2, 3 and 14 K.V.A. This is small electrical equipment which would be licensed by West Germany and by Sweden and Switzerland. The only result of our refusal to supply is that the orders are lost by us to our competitors. I notice that Sir Roger Makins, our Ambassador in the United States, who is doing excellent work there, in a speech which he delivered early in October rightly asserted that not a single instance of the supply of forbidden goods to China could be pinned on any part of any British territory. What he omitted to say was that many items not on any general forbidden list have been denied export licences front Britain whilst other United Nations members have been freely supplying such items to China.
On the general question, this is, of course, not only a serious matter from the point of view of this country—and it must be increasingly so—but it is also a serious matter from the point of view of our great and loyal Colony of Hong Kong. There is a serious business recession in Hong Kong at the present moment. This is due to the loyal manner in which Hong Kong carries out the United Nations embargo on trade with China. Hong Kong traders feel about this embargo much as a man would feel if you were to give him a knife and tell him that it was in his interests to go and cut his own throat. That, in effect, is what Hong Kong has been doing because of the United Nations embargo. The traders there consider the embargo realistic so far as true strategic materials are concerned, but the point 130 which I have ventured to make several times in your Lordships' House is that we have been and are interpreting the words "strategic material" more strictly than these other countries to which I have referred, with the result that the trade is going to other countries, and British traders are being denied it. So far as semi-strategic materials are concerned—materials which may be used for either civil or warlike purposes—the embargo operates far more strictly in our case than in the case of the other countries I have mentioned. If large-scale trade between China and Hong Kong is not resumed, sooner or later Hong Kong is bound to dwindle in importance.
The noble Marquess knows, I think, what I have in mind. I have a Question down on the Order Paper next week about "C.O.C.O.M." which operates in Paris. My Question asks for certain details about this semi-"hush-hush" organisation. I do not know if it would be possible, or indeed right, for me to ask the noble Marquess whether, in the reply which he, or perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, will give, he can give some assurance that, so far as the British trading community is concerned, it will not be subjected in the future to a more strict application of the United Nations embargo than are some other countries, such as those that I have cited in your Lordships' House to-day.
§ 4.9 p.m.
THE MARQUESS OF READING
My Lords, in taking up the various questions which have been put, and the various comments which have been made in the course of a fairly brief debate on foreign affairs, such as we have had to-day, it is always, I am afraid, necessary for the Government speaker to produce something rather in the nature of a scrapbook than a coherent speech; for your Lordships are, of course, to be encouraged to ask for information on all available subjects. Unless overriding conditions prevent its being given, it is the business of the Minister to give your Lordships the fullest possible information on all subjects.
I do not want to take up your Lordships time to-day by doing any kind of journey round the world, such as I have attempted on previous occasions. I propose rather to confine myself, with one exception, to the actual points which 131 have arisen in the course of yesterday's and to-day's debate. I say "yesterday's debate" because, in circumstances which I fully understand, the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, was anxious to raise his point about Trieste yesterday and I, unfortunately, was unable to be present yesterday. I have apologised and explained to him, and I gather that he is in a little difficulty to-day, anyhow at the moment.
THE MARQUESS OF READING
In the course of the debate yesterday, the noble and learned Earl who leads the Opposition proceeded to make what I confess struck me as some rather more forced than forceful criticisms of the policy which Her Majesty's Government, together with the Government of the United States, had adopted in dealing recently with the always inflammable subject of Trieste. He, I noticed, set out by saying that he did not object to the substance of the proposal because, as he went on to admit, very frankly and fairly, he had no better proposal to make in its place; but what he did criticise was the way in which the proposal was made and what he regarded as the natural consequences of its having been made in that particular form.
He said [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 184 (No. 2), Col. 37] that it should have been "dealt with some time ago." He then went on to say, with regard to a Five-Power meeting—which, as he rightly said, is the present objective of Her Majesty's Government, with a view to discussion and settlement of this matter:How much easier it would have been to bring about that Five-Power meeting before this declaration was made than it is now,"—the declaration being the declaration of October 8. A few sentences later he said:The result is that now it is going to be no easy matter to bring about that Five-Power meeting which would have been quite easy to bring about if we had approached it before this pronouncement was made.I wonder on what evidence the noble and learned Earl said that. I do not know what information he possesses which entitles him to say that, if we had striven during these past two years to 132 bring about a productive meeting upon Trieste, that meeting could without difficulty have been brought about.
The whole approach, as outlined by the noble and learned Earl, suggested that we had plunged suddenly into this matter without any previous thought, any previous effort or any previous consideration. He even went so far, a little later in his speech, as to suggest that there was some lack of patience over this intractable problem. If that has any practical meaning, it means this: that at the particular stage which was reached just before October 8 the patience of those in control of the Foreign Office and of Her Majesty's Government's policy suddenly gave out, and they had a sort of rush of blood to the head and said: "Now, we are going to do something drastic and perhaps rather unpleasant." I can assure the noble and learned Earl, from very personal experience of the discussions that went on, that that is not an accurate presentation of the picture. This was not a subject which sprang up on the Friday and was put in operation on the Tuesday. It was a most carefully considered move.
Why was a move made? The noble and learned Earl seems to think that the great mistake we made was to do anything at that stage. We might have sat still and let matters develop. It is perfectly plain that at that time, towards the end of August and the beginning of September, a state of tension was growing up on the subject of Trieste between the two countries primarily concerned on each side of the border, a tension which showed no sign of slackening. It so happens that I was in both those countries at the beginning of September, and even though one was there, happily, on holiday—and I should like to say that I owe much oil the pleasure of that holiday to the courtesy of the authorities of both countries—unless one were at the same time both deaf and blind, it was impossible to close one's mind to the fact that this was the predominant subject in everybody's mind on both sides of the frontier and that heat was gradually rising to boiling point.
What were we supposed to do at that moment? The noble and learned Earl, and some of his friends and supporters, have argued that at that stage we ought to have approached both parties and put 133 a suggestion to them to see how they reacted to it. That might have been all right if this problem had suddenly arisen; but, after all, for the past two years we, and for previous years the noble and learned Earl's own Party and Government, had been going into this question incessantly. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary said only the other day that, with one possible exception, this question had been his greatest preoccupation in the two years since he had returned to the Foreign Office. We had always hoped that those two countries would come together and, in the end, work out their own mutual salvation. We urged them so to do. But that did not happen, and, for reasons into which I need not go, by the beginning of September that very inflammable situation had arisen. Every kind of alternative arrangement has been under consideration during the past years, and every sort of geographical, topographical and ethnical division has been considered over and over again. Unfortunately, none was found which would commend itself to both parties.
Therefore, when this situation arose and it became necessary to do something, it was in our view—and I am not in the least humble or apologetic about the action we took—necessary to take sharp and prompt action; and if we had attempted, before taking that sharp and prompt action, to enter into separate negotiations with each of the two parties we should have got nowhere and the situation would have continued to deteriorate. That is the justification for the action that we took, and I submit to the House that it is an ample justification.
§ EARL JOWITT
I wanted to know—I do not want to ask embarrassing questions and, if they are embarrassing, I do not want the noble Marquess to answer them—whether the policy of Her Majesty's Government now is to try to bring about a Five-Power talk, and, if that is possible, would it not have been easier to bring that talk about before, rather than after, the decision was taken?
THE MARQUESS OF READING
My Lords, as my right honourable friend has said several times, the policy certainly is to bring about a Five-Power talk. But when the noble and learned Earl asks whether it would have been easier to do that before, I would join issue with him 134 and say that all the attempts that had been made had been so discouragingly met that, until we took this plunge, it would have been very improbable that any successful Five-Power meeting could even have been adequately discussed. The noble and learned Earl, having fist put forward the tentative suggestion that it was a burst of impatience, then proceeded to suggest the rather ponderously charitable explanation that the Foreign Secretary and the Lord President of the Council were unwell at the time. Fortunately for the House and for the country, that was not the position; both of them were enjoying normal good health, and, as I said, this was a matter which was not plunged into from one day to another, but was undertaken only after serious and prolonged consideration.
Noble Lords may say: "You ought to have waited. Let the situation follow its own course for a bit to see whether it calms down." That counsel is all very, well if in the end the situation does calm down; but the counsel does not work where the situation gets worse. When you have perhaps a series of frontier incidents springing up day after day, it is no good just running out between the two participants in these affrays, or even standing well outside the actual struggle, waving a piece of paper and saying, "Stop! Stop! I have got a plan," because once people are locked together in this kind of strained relation it is difficult to get them to hold up and to persuade them that you have produced a plan which will resolve all their difficulties and lead them to break apart. My submission to the House is, as I said before, that we were right in what we did. Certainly it involved a risk; but it is very difficult to do anything at all in foreign affairs, as in. other matters, and not find some potential risk lurking in them at some stage. The circumstances being what they were, we were, in my view and in my submission, -absolutely justified in taking the risk that we did.
It was said by my right honourable friend that the only feature that presented itself after we had sent these Notes was something we had not expected—namely, the threat of military force. I happened to hear the debate in another place, and that statement was received with a certain amount of subdued noise which seemed 135 to indicate disapproval or incredulity. But just bear this in mind. My right honourable friend made that statement in another place on October 28, in the debate on Trieste, but in a general statement on foreign affairs which he made on October 20 he had already given a perfectly ample and adequate explanation of why the threat of military force took us by surprise, because what he had said was this:We knew that the new proposal would meet with protest and criticism, but from the discussions and contacts which we had with both parties over many months we did feel justified in believing that it was a solution each side could acquiesce in, if under protest.That was the condition of affairs which regulated the position when we inaugurated this move on August 8. There had been contacts for many months. The result of those contacts, carried on by my right honourable friend himself with the corresponding personages in the other countries concerned, was, as he said, that he felt justified in taking the view that if this particular plan were presented it would prove to be acceptable, even if protests were first made. If that is accepted, then at once the fact that the threat of military force took us by surprise falls into its proper place, because we had expected that this plan would be acquiesced in. Where the expectation was defeated was in this unexpected threat of military force. That is the position, that is the justification of what we did, and I submit that it is a perfectly convincing justification.
My Lords, I want to add only two points on this subject. My noble friend, the Leader of the House has dealt with the matter already on one occasion, but a wrong version is still in circulation. No previous information was given to the Italian Government in advance of what was communicated to the Yugoslav Government. Our desire is to be fair and friendly with both, and there was no question, if I may use a highly colloquial phrase, of "tipping the wink" to the Italian Government in advance, or offering them something by way of a bribe as the price of their pursuing their course with regard to the European Defence Community. It was a perfectly calculated and reasonable attempt to strike a balance between both parties and to deal fairly and simultaneously with each.
136 May I make one other point about Trieste? Some of your Lordships may have seen in certain of the papers this morning some rather highly coloured accounts of disturbances in that city in the course of yesterday, and it may therefore be of some interest if I tell your Lordships the up-to-date information I have which, so far as I know at present, is quite correct. There was no need for any serious police intervention during the day. In the evening some trouble did arise when crowds began coming back from a ceremony which had been held outside the city. There was some stone-throwing and the police had to use their batons. As the result of the scuffles which went on, one policeman was hurt by a stone and nine demonstrators are, up to the time from which my information dates, reported to have received injuries which required treatment, but only three of them have been detained in hospital. The important aspect is that some of the accounts suggested, in rather heavy type, that there had been rifle fire and all kinds of things.
THE MARQUESS OF READING
The use of firearms by the police was confined to a single warning shot let off by one policeman who found himself surrounded by a hostile crowd. He discharged his rifle into the air in an endeavour, isolated as he was, to persuade the crowd to disperse. That is my information up to date. I hope and believe it to be accurate, and I give it to your Lordships because any information which goes to show that there is a more disturbed condition in Trieste than is actually the case is of no advantage to any of the parties concerned.
I now leave Trieste, and come for a moment to the other point which was raised yesterday and which bears, to some extent, on foreign affairs. I refer to what was said by the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, in regard to East-West trade. Something of the same theme was taken up to-day, in rather different form, with rather different emphasis and with considerable illustration, by the noble Viscount, Lord Elibank. As regards the main question of East-West trade, I do not think I can do more or serve the House better than by repeating what my right honourable friend the President of 137 the Board of Trade said on the subject a short time ago—I think as recently as October 22—when he pointed out that it is very important to see this problem in its right proportions. I am not talking for the moment only of trade with China; I am talking of trade between this country and what I may call the Iron Curtain countries. My right honourable friend said that it was important to see this problem in its right proportions. We must remember that even before the war our total trade with Russia and the other Iron Curtain countries of Europe was only about 6 per cent. of our whole world trade, and since the war it has averaged only about 2 per cent. So one must not exaggerate the potentialities of a resumption of East-West trade.
§ VISCOUNT HALL
May I ask the noble Marquess whether that percentage includes trade with China, or does it refer simply to trade with the Iron Curtain countries?
THE MARQUESS OF READING
That refers to trade with the Iron Curtain countries. The President of the Board of Trade went on to say (OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 518 (No. 156). col. 2145):An extension in East-West trade would, however, undoubtedly be in our economic interests, provided that it was not made at the expense of the security either of ourselves or of our friends.Although the security controls are not inflexible, it would not be in our interest; to vary them substantially unless or until we are sure that the circumstances which gave them rise have changed. We shall continue to review the controls and, in consultation and agreement with the other countries who are associated with us in this matter, we shall introduce such modifications as may be justified by changing circumstances.As I have started to deal with this question of East-West trade, perhaps I may just say something with regard to the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Elibank. As your Lordships know, the noble Viscount read out a number of examples of commercial transactions in which he purported to show that this country had been at fault in allowing its competitors to get ahead of it or in sitting by and allowing its competitors to disregard the rules by which we felt ourselves to be bound and force their way into the Chinese market.
I did not say that this country had allowed our competitors to disregard the rules. I did not say that. We could not have prevented them from doing as they did.
THE MARQUESS OF READING
Let me put it in a different form. Let me say that the noble Viscount suggested that we have imposed on ourselves stricter rules than some of our competitors have imposed for their own purposes. He then read out a number of instances, as I have said. At the end, he stated that he had done so in order that those instances might obtain all the publicity that is their due. I hesitate to take issue with the noble Viscount, but, quite frankly. I do not think that that was an entirely fair way of putting the cases to the Government, because the noble Viscount gets all the advertisement for the cases which he cites, of not a single one of which, as he has said, has he given us any notice. They may be explicable on perfectly sound and reasonable grounds, but, as the noble Viscount knows as well as I do, in such circumstances the answer can never overtake the original statement. Yet he comes here and brings forward all these instances without any opportunity for the Government, within the short space of time available, to be able to look into the cases to see whether there is any explanation which might satisfy not only public opinion but the noble Viscount himself.
Does the noble Marquess really suggest that any Member of Parliament knowing of cases like these, where, in his opinion and in the opinion of British traders, a British commercial community is being unfairly treated, should not, either in this House or in the other place, bring these cases forward publicly? May I say this, if the House will allow me? I said to the noble Marquess that I had not given him notice of these cases. I said that here to-day. I explained that I did not know that I was going to be here. Therefore, I did not expect him to answer. I said all that in my speech.
THE MARQUESS OF READING
I do not want to enter into a controversy with the noble Viscount. I think he has misunderstood my point. It is not a question of a Member of this or another place 139 not having the right to raise these matters. Supposing it is done in another place by Question, or here by Question, at least the Member of either House who is to answer for the Government has the opportunity of seeing the Question in advance and of finding out from the Department concerned whether there is any adequate answer to the allegation which is made, and, if there is, of putting it in his reply. The noble Viscount, as I have said, did not give me any notice. That, I confess I think, was a pity. Then he says that he did not ask me to reply today. But that does not meet the criticism of the line which he has taken. He makes an ex-parte, unchallenged, statement of his case, without the other side having any opportunity to reply. That is where I think the noble Viscount was a little unfair in his way of handling this particular point.
With the indulgence of the House, may I say that at some time in the summer I made a speech on the very same subject, raising many of the same items without having given notice. Why did not the noble Marquess get up then and say what he has said to-day? Why did he not say then that I was being unfair?
THE MARQUESS OF READING
It would have been a perfectly legitimate answer to make at that time. But if we did not make it at that time, that does not mean that on a second occasion we are not entitled to protest. I do not propose to follow that matter any further for the moment.
May I now come back to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, and deal with it, I hope, very briefly—I say briefly, not because I do not attach great importance to what he said, but because over the whole range of his speech we were so much in agreement with the views which he put forward, and particularly, perhaps, with the opening phrases in his speech, in which he dealt with the necessity of good relations between this country and the United States. The noble Lord emphasised that these were "indispensable pre-conditions"—to use his own 140 phrase—for carrying out a policy of a peaceful world. One sees, from time to time, great efforts made—fortunately in a very limited quarter—to emphasise every difference that exists between the United States and this country. When I see that kind of campaign pursued, the first thought that always comes into my mind is how extraordinarily wide is the field of co-operation and contact between us and how narrow the field of dissension. The noble Lord gave an interesting account of his own reactions and researches into the same point of view, and then went on to deal with the common ground—and, as I have said, there is much common ground—between us.
On Korea, I would only say that there is the armistice, not achieved without a long period of wearisome and frustrating argument. Unfortunately, the same tactics of wearisome and frustrating argument seem to have been adopted in the Communist approach to the discussions that are going on at Panmunjom, but Mr. Dean, who is acting as spokesman of the United Nations Command in these matters, has shown great patience and great care in dealing with this subject. Certainly noble Lords can be sure that we are in close touch, as always, with the United States Administration in regard to consultations about what course is to be pursued from day to day.
The noble Lord went on to speak of German unity, and there said that the British policy was British in the widest sense. After that, he went on to deal with some aspects of the subject of the European Defence Community, and thereupon proceeded to put questions with which I will deal in a minute. Certainly the results of the elections in Germany were a remarkable phenomenon. I think they have given a new impulse and stimulus to the whole position of the European Defence Community, because here we have the German nation, by this great majority, supporting what is, in effect, a European policy which will ultimately lead, so far as the Armed Forces are concerned, to the imposition of certain limitations upon the extension of these Forces. I think that is a great step for-word. We know that at times Russia has suggested the revival of an unlimited, uncontrolled German Army, and that other people have put forward the idea of a neutralised Germany. Her Majesty's Government are still as convinced as ever 141 they were, and as the Government before them were, that the only policy to pursue with unabated vigour and support is the policy incorporated in the European Defence Community. Unfortunately, all the countries whom we should like to see members of this Community have not yet put their signatures to the Agreement. In the interval which has passed, we have, inevitably and rightly, discussed with the various countries concerned the question of our own association with that European Defence Community. And, as your Lordships know, since the first discussions not only have there been steps forward, in the Treaties which were signed in Paris at the time of the Bonn Convention, but in such matters as closer military liaison proposals have been put forward and accepted in regard to the relations of this country and other countries of the Community.
More recently, other proposals have been put forward, to which the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, referred, and to which my honourable friend Mr. Nutting made reference in his Strasbourg speech. On the political plane, no doubt, there will be a number of questions in regard to the European Defence Community, particularly, at the beginning, perhaps, questions which will require discussion between all those concerned, either directly or indirectly, with N.A.T.O., if they are to lead to an adequate and permanent settlement. And in order that that may be done, we may assume that there will be the need for some new machinery of consultation in order to supplement our existing relations. We have made suggestions for the form of that machinery. Those suggestions are still being considered by the other countries concerned. We trust that after proper consideration they will find them acceptable, and as soon as they have passed their final judgment upon them, I can assure your Lordships that Parliament will be thoroughly informed. But that is as far as I can go at this moment when other countries are still considering the suggestions and when we have no power over the acceleration of Governmental engines in other countries.
§ LORD HENDERSON
My Lords, am I to understand from that statement of the noble Marquess that at the recent meeting of the Council of Ministers of E.D.C. 142 finality was not reached on the British proposals?
THE MARQUESS OF READING
My Lords, no complete finality has yet been reached, but as soon as we are in a position to make a statement to the House, of course, that will be done. But I cannot anticipate until other countries have been fully consulted and have made their position known.
The noble Lord, Lord Layton, dealt, as he is good enough to do from his expert knowledge of the subject, with the Council of Europe. He asked two questions, and answered them, to his own and, I am glad to say, to Her Majesty's Government's satisfaction, in the negative; and, therefore, perhaps I may leave it at that.
I should like to say a few words about the Note—I was beginning to say "the answer to our Note," but I think I had better say "the Note"—from the Russian Government, which has not emerged from the state of being a rough translation. I am bound to say that if that rough translation bears any close relation to an accurate translation, it looks very much as if here there are eighteen pages of somewhat dismal and turgid "smog." It argues and re-argues the whole case over and over again, and for the second time a Note of ours containing an invitation to a definite conference, at a definite place at a particular time, has not received even the grace of a reference in the reply. We are getting to the stage in which, when we send a Note of this kind, we shall have to put at the foot of the invitation "R.S.V.P.", otherwise we shall get no answer at all. Of course, this Note has still to be carefully considered, and although what the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, said to-day seems to be in accordance with the terms of the Note as we know it, I should be reluctant to say more about it until the accurate translation has emerged.
That is all I propose to say to-day, except for one thing, and that is to raise a matter which has not been referred to in the debate, but about which I still think I owe it to the House to make a statement. If there had not been a Foreign Affairs debate in another place in which this matter could be incorporated, it might well have taken the form of a separate statement. But my right honourable friend, in the course of his speech, 143 is incorporating a passage about the Sudan elections, and I propose to take the somewhat unusual course of reading the exact text for the benefit of your Lordships. The text is as follows.
Elections to the first all-Sudanese Parliament have just begun. These elections are being supervised by an International Commission, set up, by agreement between us and the Egyptian Government, to ensure their impartiality. The Commission has been working with skill and restraint in difficult circumstances under its Indian chairman. But besides setting up this International Commission, the Agreement pledged the two Governments to enable the Sudanese to elect their Parliament, and to determine their future, in a free and neutral atmosphere. We are certainly not satisfied with the way in which the Egyptian Government has so far carried out that pledge. The Government-controlled Press and radio of Egypt, and a variety of other means, have been used with full force to influence the decision of the Sudanese people in favour of the party which advocates a link with Egypt. Last August, a member of the Egyptian Government, the Minister of Propaganda and Sudan affairs, visited the Sudan with the intention—if the Government-controlled Press of Egypt is to be believed—of persuading the Sudanese political parties to share out the seats instead of contesting the election. He did not succeed; but it was the same Minister who, a few days ago, publicly accused the British officials in the Sudan Administration of intervening in the elections. Obviously the evidence that any official has acted improperly should be put to the International Commission. Wide, unsupported accusations against British officials made to the Press can be intended only for propaganda purposes.
These persistent efforts to arouse prejudice and hostility against the British can have only one purpose; to confuse the real issue. They are designed to obscure the fact that the choice is not between subjection to Britain or subjection to Egypt but between complete independence or dependence upon Egypt. Our purpose was and is to ensure that the Sudanese shall be able to choose fairly and freely between these alternatives, and in so doing we seek nothing for ourselves. We are not going to make the Commission's task more difficult by following the 144 Egyptian example, but we cannot let it appear by our silence that we condone this kind of behaviour. We refused to make any agreement with Egypt which did not permit the Sudanese people freely to determine their future. It is now for them to take the first step towards that goal.
I am sure that the House will join with me in assuring the Sudanese that we will give our support to their freely-elected representatives in achieving what is promised them in the Anglo-Egyptian Agreement. I think this is also a suitable occasion on which to express our confidence in the Administration in the Sudan, They have worked long and hard for the well-being and progress of the Sudanese people. They have a vital and, in many ways, more difficult rôle now in ensuring that the transfer of power goes as smoothly as possible. We know that they will bring to this task the devotion and public spirit for which they have won renown in the past.
My Lords, I thought it was right that you should be acquainted with that statement, which my right honourable friend will by now have made. As I said, it is not for me at this stage of the debate to undertake a world tour. I have endeavoured to cover, so far as I can, the more important of the questions which have been raised by noble Lords who preceded me. May I just say this before I close? As I am in the privileged position of being in the Foreign Office, it is frequently my task to address various societies and bodies, so far as my still admittedly limited knowledge of foreign affairs goes, upon that very ample and varied subject. In so doing, or in preparing so to do, one is apt to try in one's mind to analyse, for one's own if not for one's audience's benefit, what are the essential purposes of foreign policy; what it is that we try, by our various plans and schemes, by our thinking and by our acting, to produce. My Lords, sometimes one's mind is working reasonably well, and one produces out of one's ingenuity a series of propositions which seem for the moment to illustrate what the purposes are. But when one looks behind them and through them all, one can reduce them to a single word: for they are all directed simply and surely to the achievement of peace. From whatever approach one makes to it, and from whatever angle one looks at it, 145 one is always brought back to this: that in spite of disappointments, in spite of disillusionments, in spite of frustrations—which are only too many and too frequent—it is still the duty of those of us who are in any humble degree responsible for foreign policy to put aside any feelings of personal frustration or disillusionment that we may for the moment experience, and to realise that our task, our sole task, in the last resort is to go on plodding away with whatever effort we may be capable of making for the achievement of that one supreme end.
§ 4.58 p.m.
§ LORD SALTER
My Lords, I have the honour to-day to address your Lordships for the first time, and I ask for the indulgence that I know you customarily accord on such occasions—I shall doubtless need it. I rise at this late stage in the debate because the subject on which I wish to speak to-day concerns the external aspects, or some of them, of our financial policy; and this is a subject which did not seem to fall naturally either into the home affairs debate in which we were engaged yesterday or in the discussion on foreign policy which has just been concluded by the noble Marquess. I propose to refer particularly to two sentences in the gracious Speech which declare the intentions of Her Majesty's Government as to the promotion of exports and the encouragement of further economic co-operation with Western Europe. Those two sentences are bare and brief, and may be said, perhaps, rather to reflect than to reseal the policy of Her Majesty's Government. I am glad, therefore, that they come to us now, not only against the background of the two years' record of the Government, but also, and more particularly, endorsed and illumined by the new declarations of policy made on behalf of the Government at the meeting of O.E.E.C. in Paris a week ago to-day. I welcome the developments of policy then announced, and I do so the more because I think they came at a particularly crucial and timely moment. For reasons I shall give shortly, I think they have an importance somewhat greater in their promise and prospect than has yet been recognised.
Before I come to that special subject, however, I should like to offer a few more 146 general comments upon the reasons why I am confident that this House will, when it looks at the financial proposals of the Government in the light of their record, as when it looks upon the other proposals of the Government in the light of their past, give complete support without amendment, qualification or hesitation, to the Motion that is before us on the gracious Speech.
Two years ago we were confronted with a deadly danger: our overseas balance was seriously adverse. We were earning by our exports much less than we were spending on our essential imports, and our reserves were depleted throughout the winter of 1951–52 at a rate which, if it had been continued, would have completely exhausted them within a year. Had that happened, with our adverse balance still serious, when our exports were still earning much less than was needed to pay for the most essential of our imports, we should have been faced with a serious food shortage and with mass unemployment. We have not only arrested, but we have reversed that movement. Since the first Budget of this Administration in the spring of last year, nothing has gone out of the reserves, and every quarter since then—and, indeed, I may say every month—has seen some accession and some increase
The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, said yesterday, and I think justly—speaking, as he said, with the serene impartiality which attaches to his official position in this House, and, perhaps we might add, appropriate also to his personal temperament and mellowed judgment—that this was a great achievement. I think it was. It was an achievement resulting from a combination of. I think it may be justly claimed, good management and, it must be candidly admitted, some good luck. I do not propose to expatiate upon the good management, the more because I was until so recently bearing a share, if a modest one, of the responsibility. The good luck included general world conditions which, on the whole, were favourable to the maintenance of our exports, and an improvement in the terms of trade—that is to say, an increase in the prices of the goods we sell overseas in comparison with the prices of those we buy, which greatly helped our balance of payments. I am confident that the good management will 147 continue. We cannot be quite so sure about the good luck. Therefore, while the situation of our reserves and our balance of payments is not now critical and urgent, as it was two years ago, it is still one which must give us anxiety and must remain a constant preoccupation and determining factor in all our policy.
This improvement, even if it should be precarious, in little more than the first year of this Government's administration, opened the way for the great advance the Government have since achieved in making the basis of our economy broader, by enlarging the area of private enterprise and private initiative. Perhaps I may recall to your Lordships the list of measures of freedom which were announced at the Mansion House in the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer a few days ago and which were, in their cumulative effect, very impressive. As one small example, over a field which has many other and perhaps more important examples, I might refer to the experiences of the Department for which I was myself responsible until I turned it over some two months ago to Lord Woolton. Of the public trading enterprises which were entrusted to that Department only two and a quarter years ago, when it was created in June, 1951, no less than nine-tenths had already been returned to private enterprise when the change of Minister took place, and two-thirds of that change had been effected in the first eight months of this year. That is the kind of general background that we should have in looking at the proposals of the Government as stated in the gracious Speech.
I should now like to turn to the more particular subject about which I said I would speak this evening—the position of our economic co-operation with Western Europe. Last week the Government announced a greater measure of liberalisation in our commercial relations with Western Europe. I believe that announcement was timely, because it came at a time when O.E.E.C. and its child, the European Payments Union, were in considerable danger. The danger arose from the fact that the crisis measures the Government had been obliged to apply in 1951 were still largely in force, and also there had been mistaken anticipations of a premature convertibility, with 148 speculations as to the accompaniments and probable consequences. These had made many of our European partners wonder whether we were not going to drop out of those organs of European co-operation altogether, and whether the considerable achievements of recent years in securing a greater measure of freer trade and a considerable measure of inter-changeability of currencies in Western Europe and between Western Europe and ourselves would not be lost. The liberalisation announced last week, showing, as it did, an intention, I hope, of the Government to promote and develop the work of O.E.E.C. and the European Payments Union, has given new vitality and longer prospects to that institution. That is of considerable importance.
I should like to remind your Lordships of the origin of these two organisations. O.E.E.C. was created in order to distribute Marshall Aid, and it was accompanied—and this is an aspect of it I should like to emphasise—by a definite effort of America to preach and promote greater European integration. I emphasise this at this moment, because I think this aspect of Marshall Aid has been inadequately recognised and because it is of great importance. There are some people so foolish as to allege that a principal purpose of American official policy is to dominate and diminish the economic independence of countries with weaker economies. Well, what did they do when they set up the organisation through which Marshall Aid was administered? They did their utmost to promote and create an economic unity which would have comprised more manpower, more skill and more resources than the United States itself. That is not the way in which the American Government, had they so desired, would have pursued a policy of dominating the economies of other countries, as they might well have done if they were dealing only with the weaker economies of the countries which were brought together in relation to Marshall Aid. Unfortunately the form of association which the American authorities envisaged in that integration was that of a full customs union; and the fact is that a full customs union is not possible in the immediate, or even foreseeable, future, even in the countries of Europe; and still less would it be possible to include this 149 country, which has to maintain, and certainly will maintain, Imperial Preference and closer relations between members of the British Commonwealth than with any foreign countries.
What we have had in O.E.E.C. and its attendant organisation is a gradual development towards a more limited association, in which there has been between the constitutent members considerably freer trade than with the outside world. We have been working towards what may be called a partial customs union. I think this will have many, though of course not all, of the advantages of a full customs union at a less and, I think, a practicable price. And though I realise the complexities of the doctrine involved, I have never been convinced that if a full customs union is 100 per cent. virtuous, a partial customs union is 100 per cent. vicious.
It remains true, however, that, as the Americans realised, in some respects, even more vividly than European countries, it is of the utmost importance that the inequality between that great and dynamic economy of America and the smaller units should be reduced by a group or groups of the non-dollar countries which will be less dependent on dollar imports and more nearly self-sufficient. How can this be attained? It cannot be through a closed, or almost closed, Imperial system. I am in favour of some such removal of the limitations on Imperial Preference as was suggested by the President of the Board of Trade in Geneva a few weeks ago. But no practicable extension of Imperial Preference can afford us the solution of the problem on which I am now speaking. Still less would it be possible for ourselves in association with Europe to find the solution in any form of economic integration between this island and Western Europe, without the Commonwealth. But it is possible to find a solution through what I have called a partial customs union between ourselves and Western Europe, and, through us, with the Commonwealth. That is why I think it is of importance that a new lease of life should have been given—as I think it was given—to O.E.E.C. last week. I believe that it is the dollar disequilibrium which has been the principal cause of the most serious impediments to world trade—low quotas, high tariffs and inconvertibility of 150 currencies; and this disequilibrium, I think, will last a good deal longer and will be more intractable than has usually been assumed in recent discussions.
I turn to one last subject closely related to the theme upon which I have been speaking—the danger of a depletion of our reserves and of a seriously adverse balance of payments. Many of us have found an anxious question constantly recurring to our minds: what would happen if there were a recession, possibly starting in America and then, perhaps coming with a magnified and multiplied effect, as did the temporary recession in America in the spring of 1949, to this country? What could we do in that case? Well, my Lords, if that were to happen—I am not suggesting that it will, but of course it is always possible—it will be a very considerable help to us to have a form of association through O.E.E.C. with the countries of Western Europe. That will give a chance of preventing the first reaction being that we and our European partners, in order to protect our national reserves, at once cut out each other's exports
Can we go further? What about the much-discussed Keynes measures, designed as a cure for unemployment, which were to a large extent the basis of the policy enunciated in the White Paper of 1944, when the Coalition Government was in power? I believed very strongly in the general Keynes ideas and policy in relation to the economic conditions at that time, when they were formed, and in relation to which they were proposed. I have, however, always thought it a great tragedy that what was the heresy of Westminster and Whitehall when Keynes put forward his proposals should have become orthodox in Whitehall and Westminster in 1944, on the very eve of a time and period when the economic situation was precisely the opposite. Keynes had contemplated a distressed condition resulting from a flagging home demand and unused productive capacity. In the years after the war, we were faced with excessive home demand and inadequate productive capacity. And in that period the influence of the Keynes doctrines did more harm than good. It was not his fault he was a physician who had prescribed a remedy for a patient suffering from low blood pressure. It was no fault of his that the prescription was applied 151 by others to a patient suffering from high blood pressure. Something of the same comment should be made if the same Keynes ideas are thought to be a solution for unemployment starting from America and spreading to this country. Whilst I do not say that these ideas are quite inapplicable, I think they are applicable only within a narrow and carefully selected field. We must not rely too much upon them. They can be used more fairly by a country like America, with a surplus balance of payments. I have reasonable confidence that they will be applied by America when the time comes. America, in that way, can perhaps do, more for us, as well as for herself, than anything we can do ourselves, if and when the recession should come.
I have touched on some important questions, very inadequately. I hope to have the opportunity of returning to some of them when the subject before your Lordships' House is not so wide as an Address on a gracious Speech. In the meantime, however, I have said enough—perhaps I have said too much—to indicate why I personally shall support wholeheartedly, without doubt or qualification, the Motion that is now before us.
§ 5.21 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT SIMON
My Lords, I shall be expressing the feeling in all your minds when I venture to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Salter, on the admirable and lucid speech which he has just delivered. It is a particular satisfaction to me to have the opportunity of saying so, because he is an old and valued friend of mine, for whose equipment and experience in many fields I have the highest regard. The noble Lord was once upon a time Member of Parliament for the University of Oxford, and in that position he rendered notable service. Now that the University seats are not to he restored—and I think, having regard to the basis upon which the Parliamentary franchise rests, that is a wise decision—it is particularly pleasant to feel that he has the opportunity from these red Benches of making the sort of contribution which he used to make from the green Benches. We are delighted that, owing to his membership of this House, Parliament and the country will not be deprived of the value of his powers of economic analysis.
152 As regards the gracious Speech, two views have been expressed during the last two days. The noble and learned Earl who leads the Opposition observed that he liked it better than the last one, that it was "more constructive and less destructive." On the other hand, I read that Mr. Herbert Morrison regards the gracious Speech as "one of the most vague and indefinite speeches that we have experienced." Well, fiat any rate, we call agree that it outlines a programme of work which will keep legislators busy for the full length of the present Session. I desire to refer to only two matters in the gracious Speech, the one a reference to bringing the salaries of the Judges "more into keeping with the dignity and responsibilities of their office," and the other the reference at the end to the reform of the House of Lords.
First, with regard to the Judges, I must confirm entirely what was stated yesterday by the noble and learned Earl about the increasing difficulty which every Lord Chancellor feels in securing the best men for that high office. May I just refer to my own experience? When I was Lord Chancellor there was an occasion when, after considering carefully who was the best man to select, and after sending for him and making the offer of a judgeship. I was met with the answer that he would have liked, above all things, to undertake that high and honourable duty but that he simply could not afford it. A man who is married, whose children are at school, may feel that he cannot face the changes forced upon him if he gives up his work at the Bar and takes a salary fixed by Parliament 130 years ago, at a time when there was no income tax and when surtax had never been thought of, a salary which has lost so much of its purchasing power and is now exposed to very heavy taxation. I cannot overemphasise my feeling that this situation threatens an injury to our judicial institutions that cannot be exaggerated. I have even heard of High Court Judges who contemplated resigning their judgeship in the hope of returning to the Bar, a procedure, I may say, which should be severely discountenanced in this country, though it occasionally happens elsewhere.
To my mind, the constitutional principle that a Judge holds office during good behaviour but may be removed by 153 an Address from both Houses of Parliament has its counterpart, and its counterpart is this: the irremovability of a Judge implies that he will not, once he has become a Judge, step down from the Bench and enter again the arena. The noble and learned Earl opposite referred to this question as a "delicate matter" to be "fought out," he thought, "in another place as a Money Bill." I do not feel sure that the Speaker, under the Parliament Act, will certify the Judges' Remuneration Bill as a Money Bill. Of course, the Commons will provide the money, but the question involved in the Bill is a great question of constitutional importance. May I be allowed to point out an aspect of the Judge's duty which is not perhaps so readily appreciated by the public? If a man is going to do his duty as a Judge he has to be prepared to concentrate his mind on the matters being dealt with before him, to listen to the witnesses, to listen to the argument to keep himself and his mind completely occupied with the subject matter which he has to decide. How can a man do that if he is haunted with the feeling: "How am I going to pay for the education of my children? How am I going to meet my tradesmen's bills?" It is these distracting things which prevent the due discharge of the official office. For that reason, my Lords, I deem it to be the duty of those who have special reason to know that this is so, to speak out for the information of Parliament and the public.
There is one member of the Labour Party who has spoken out very manfully. When this matter came up earlier this year, Sir Hartley Shawcross wrote a letter to The Times in which he said:For my own part, I should consider myself lacking in political honesty if I were to conceal my personal view, even if that view should involve me in the misfortune of disagreeing, in this particular, with the official view of the Party to which I belong.Then he went on:I believe it essential, if the State is to obtain the services of the best men as Judges, that their salaries should be substantially increased.…A barrister who is well qualified to be a Judge ought not to have to ask himself, if invited to join the Bench, whether, with fairness to his family and other commitments, he can possibly afford to accept.Later in the letter Sir Hartley proceeded to meet full-front the sort of grudging 154 criticism which your Lordships can imagine arising. He wrote:A salary of £5,000 a year, with pension rights, may seem high to those who do not fully appreciate the taxes which have to be paid, the expenses which have to be met, and the standards which have to be maintained out of it. It is in truth not so much as the State pays to some officials in the nationalised industries and it is far less than is earned by many in successful practice at the Bar, in the other professions or in commerce and industry where, in addition to very much higher earnings, there are usually expense allowances for taxation purposes which materially add to the net value of the salaries.I hope that those observations will be considered by any who may be disposed to criticise the proposed Bill. Sir Hartley Shawcross did not, I agree, approve of the method first proposed, of a tax-free payment; but he states the conclusion at which every well-informed man, and especially anyone who has recently occupied the Woolsack, is bound to arrive, and I am hopeful that the truth may prevail. So much for judicial salaries.
My Lords, I want also to say a word or two on the last sentence of the gracious Speech which refers to the consideration by Ministers of the question of reform of the House of Lords. This is a subject in which I take particular interest. I was not a member of the Conference of 1948, but it will be within your Lordships' memory that last Session I introduced a Life Peers Bill. I was much encouraged by the support I received, both in this House and outside it, but in the course of the Second Reading discussion the announcement was made that invitations to a new Conference had gone out, and thereupon we agreed not to take a vote upon the Bill, but that it should go into the list of Bills awaiting Second Reading. There it remained until the end of the Session, when, of course, it expired. I may as well tell your Lordships that I had intended to reintroduce this Life Peers Bill as soon as the debate on the Address was over, but almost at the conclusion of the gracious Speech appears this sentence:My Ministers will give further consideration to the question of reform of the House of Lords.It is perhaps noteworthy that this sentence immediately precedes the observation:I pray that the blessing of Almighty God will rest upon your counsels.155 I may therefore presume to say that I hope Ministers will be wisely guided in this matter.
Without discussing at any length now the merits of the matter, there is one reference that I should like to make, which I owe to a recently-published book by Mr. Kennedy on the life of Lord Salisbury, the Prime Minister. I read on page 75 of this extremely informative biography what was the great Lord Salisbury's attitude when, after having been for thirteen years in the House of Commons as Lord Robert Cecil, he suddenly found himself, owing to the death of the holder of the title, removed here as the Marquess of Salisbury. Mr. Kennedy makes it quite plain that Lord Salisbury regarded rank as a sham and greatly resented his removal to this House. But the author goes on to say:He took his seat there on May 7, 1868; and he very soon disturbed his fellow Conservatives by supporting the Life Peerage Bill introduced by their Liberal opponent, Lord Russell. It enabled the creation of a limited number of Peers in any one year, who would have the right to vote, but whose title would not be hereditary.That is, I think, a pretty close description of the Life Peers Bill of unhappy memory. The passage continues:Lord Salisbury did not wish to strengthen the House of Lords relatively to the Commons, whose will should be supreme; but he did want to make it less narrowly representative. He argued that it had become necessary to have in it members drawn from the growing industrial and mercantile interests; they must also have men who could speak with first-hand knowledge of the health and moral condition of the people.I have read in Hansard the speech which Lord Salisbury made on that occasion, and his argument was that this House of Peers is a representative Assembly. It used to be representative because it contained the great county aristocrats responsible for their area and for administering and representing the people from whom they came. Then, the argument proceeded, we had passed into another situation, and we should now have new elements in the House to continue its really representative character. That is precisely the argument which I hope, in due course, when Ministers consider this matter, will appeal to them. I cannot for the life of me see why we should not put ourselves in a position 156 where we can have the great acknowledged trade union leaders as Members of this House, without imposing upon them hereditary succession.
The Prime Minister, the other day, commended his plan for what he called a "piecemeal approach" to the problems of Europe and to the getting into touch with the Soviet. I am not at all sure that it may not turn out that there is something to be said for a piecemeal approach to this subject, too. At any rate, I wish to give notice that from time to time I shall make inquiries as to how Ministers are getting on, and if there is a prospect of further consideration leading to the introduction of a Bill no one will be more delighted than myself. But I am also giving notice that, half way through the Session. I shall be prepared, in case of need, to reintroduce the Bill for which I made myself responsible in the last Session, and to reintroduce it in time for it to be dealt with during this Session. My Lords, I said that I had two points arising from the gracious Speech on which I wished to make some remarks. I have now made my remarks, and I will not delay your Lordships for another moment.
§ 5.42 p.m.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, we are now getting towards the end of a three days' debate on the gracious Speech, and, judging by the appearance of the Benches on this side of the House, as well as of those on the other side, it would seem that most noble Lords consider that the discussion has been adequate. We are promised a very full Session; no fewer than sixteen measures are forecast in the Address. I think the programme foreshadowed is as big as any I can remember. And I should just like to remind noble Lords on the other side of the House of the views which they have frequently expressed about the amount of legislation outlined in the gracious Speech when we were in office. Their constant criticism was that we were putting forward too much legislation, and they said that we could all do with a rest. Of course, in these dynamic days, in the constantly changing society in which we live, it is inevitable that economic and other changes should be reflected in constant changes in the law; and, therefore, in spite of the temptation to make some play with what noble Lords have said in the past, I make no 157 complaint at all about the number and the complexity of the measures which are forecast for the present Session—though of course I do not for a moment suggest that they will, in all respects, meet with approval from this side of the House.
It has been interesting to find, in the course of the discussion here, that every single item in the gracious Speech has been discussed during these three days with the exception of the new constitution of the National Gallery and the Tate Gallery, and the new governing body for the National Museum of Antiquities in Scotland. I imagine that the reason for that is not any lack of interest in those institutions but, rather, a complete lack of knowledge of what is in the minds of Her Majesty's Government. So far as I can remember, we have had no discussion on the prolongation of the powers of the National Film Finance Corporation. If the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, could say a word on what was in mind in that connection, whether it was merely to extend the duration of the life of the Corporation or whether there was any intention to put more money into the organisation, I should be greatly obliged. If there to be an extension merely in order to collect money which has been advanced in the past, that is one thing admittedly necessary, but I should be interested to know whether Her Majesty's Government contemplate putting more money into the film industry.
There has been no reference at all in the course of the debate—nor was there in the gracious Speech—to two questions which have been occupying the attention of important Committees for some years, and one of which was recently debated in the House. The two Committees to which I refer are the Nathan Committee on Charities, and the Evershed Committee on Legal Reform. A statement was made in the course of the debate on charities, by the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack, to the effect that it was intended that legislation would be introduced dealing with some aspects of the Report on Charities. I shall be grateful if the noble Marquess can tell us if that intention still holds, also whether there is any idea of implementing any parts of the Report of the Evershed Committee. That Committee has published a long and most valuable report on legal reform. One 158 would hope that that Report will not be put on the shelf and forgotten.
I wish now to deal with a few aspects of the gracious Speech—obviously I cannot deal with them all. In particular, however, I want to deal with those which may become controversial as the Session goes on. The first matter is that of housing. We are fortunate in that yesterday a White Paper was published dealing with the Government's intentions on housing. It is a comprehensive Paper, and I should like to say straight away that, whatever one's views may be about the policy contained in it, it certainly does indicate that a great deal of thought has been given to a difficult and intractable problem. It would, of course, be premature to make any pronouncement about the White Paper in this debate. Indeed, the noble Viscount, Lord Woolton, yesterday said that he thought a debate later on—and I hope one will take place shortly—would be profitable to all concerned.
A number of thoughts occur to one in this connection; certainly some occurred to me in the early hours of this morning when I was reading that White Paper. I think we have to face a basic problem on housing which arises because the majority of the people of this country are not able to pay an economic rent for their homes. Whether they live in council houses or whether they live in dwellings owned by private landlords, they are not in a position to pay the full economic rent. It means that a large part of the population are being subsidised either out of public money or out of private money. Another factor is that the whole of our economic system is based upon that fact. Suppose that to-morrow every working man and every man of moderate means was requited to pay the full economic rent for the accommodation he occupies, it would cause vast financial and economic repercussions and large social reactions. And this situation has gradually become more acute as time has gone on. At no time in the past thirty or forty years has it really been practicable to any extent for anybody to build a new house to let at an economic rent. I admit that some houses have been built, but even the smaller houses that were built in the pre-war years were largely built for sale and not for letting.
Another factor we have to face is that the subsidy paid out of public money 159 is becoming bigger and bigger. It is increasing every year by arithmetical progression. Every house that is built carries with it a subsidy for sixty years, so that if in the first year there is a subsidy, in the second year we are paying not only the subsidies in respect of the houses built in the first year, but also the subsidies in respect of those built in the second year, and this goes on cumulatively. In the course of a few years it will involve an enormous drain on public money. I made a statement of this kind some time last year. It received a certain amount of ephemeral attention, and I think it is right that this should be pointed out once more, because we ought to know where we are going. From time to time there is talk about reducing the cost of houses. At the Conservative Conference at Margate Mr. Macmillan said he hoped gradually to disentangle the country from the bog of subsidies, but he gave no indication at the Conference of how he was going to disentangle the country, and there is certainly no indication in the gracious Speech or in the White Paper of how this is going to be done. But that it has to be done there is no doubt, otherwise we may well find that the housing programme and all the great dreams of housing may come to an untimely end.
I know we are going to have a debate on the White Paper, but perhaps it would be right if I gave my first reactions to it. I think it is an honest attempt to solve an exceedingly difficult problem. I have considerable doubt as to whether it really solves it, and I will give some of my reasons. In the first place, it permits an increase of rent in respect of past monies spent in repairs. It rewards the good landlord, or the fortunate landlord, who has already spent money, but it does nothing to induce the landlord of the future to spend money. Of course, I do not expect this matter to be debated today, and I certainly shall not take it amiss if the noble Marquess does not deal with all my points in any detail, but I thought it might be useful to have them on record. I do not think the White Paper gives complete satisfaction, even to the landlords, because I see from yesterday's Daily Telegraph that the organisation 160 representing property owners are dissatisfied. I do not know whether by yesterday morning they had had time to read and appreciate this White Paper and had been able to form a collective view: it might be that they had some earlier notice of this, otherwise it is difficult to see how the Daily Telegraph could have reported yesterday morning that the property owners' organisation were dissatisfied.
Then, these are temporary proposals, and the Government seem to have no idea of where they go from these temporary proposals. I do not think the proposals help to tide over even a temporary difficulty, and, after all, this is a permanent difficulty. And, of course, they do nothing about the fundamental programme of rent restriction, but merely give the landlord who has already spent some money an opportunity of recouping himself. There is a more fundamental difficulty that I see in the White Paper as a whole—because we have to take rent restriction, slum clearance, improvement of existing property and all the other proposals contained in the White Paper as a whole. It seems to me that it is going to be an impossible task, first, to maintain the existing output of 300,000 new houses a year; secondly, to carry out in addition large-scale slum clearance; thirdly, to initiate schemes for improvement of amenities in existing houses and for converting larger houses into smaller ones, and lastly to bring into proper condition the large number of rent-controlled premises that are very badly in need of repair. These are some of the difficulties which I see in the White Paper, but I must say fairly that I think the Government have made a genuine attempt to face up to the difficulty, and, if they have not succeeded, or if they have not succeeded entirely, it is because it is really a very intractable problem.
Now may I say a word about the legislation which is foreshadowed on town and country planning. Here again we have had a White Paper and an interesting discussion on it. I was personally somewhat involved in the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, and it is perhaps a little difficult for me to be entirely objective about it, but I want to try. I have never pretended, and I do not pretend now, that that Act was the 161 acme of perfection, or that it might not need amendment from time to time. And I would have made no complaint whatever if the Government had come forward with substantial amendments of the Act, even in its financial provisions. It was an attempt, and it was not a one-Party attempt—nobody knows that better than the noble Viscount, Lord Woolton, because he was a member of a Government which spent years in trying to devise a solution to the problem of compensation, and he knows that the proposals contained in the 1947 Act were not the product of one Party, still less of one man; they were the product of the combined wisdom of the best minds of both Parties in the Coalition Government. Substantially, but not in every detail, the financial provisions of the 1947 Act embodied the solution which they had agreed upon.
That does not mean—and I do not suggest for one moment that it does—that noble Lords opposite, or members of their Party, are for all time committed to that particular solution; but they really are aware of the problem, and any alternative solution must be a better solution than the one set out in the 1947 Act. My quarrel with the White Paper is that there is no solution there at all. It merely goes back to the bad days of 1939 and earlier, when there was no effective control over planning; when, for financial and other reasons, a determined developer could go forward with development without fear of the local authority, because the local authority were not in a position to pay compensation. Unless something is done, we shall be faced with all the evils of ribbon development, building on agricultural land, uncontrolled development and so on, which was the reason for the large amount of time spent during the war in trying to find a solution to this problem. I fear that all Her Majesty's Government propose to do in the Town and Country Planning Bill which is contemplated is to go back to those days.
§ VISCOUNT WOOLTON
May I interrupt the noble Lord? He is not being quite fair, because I well remember that when the White Paper was published we pointed out that we proposed to retain the planning powers. That most certainly is our intention, and I am sure the noble Lord will be glad to know that.
§ LORD SILKIN
Of course it is proposed to retain the planning powers, for which I ant grateful. But it is not sufficiently appreciated—although I am sure the noble Viscount appreciates it—that these planning powers are ineffective without the financial provisions of the Act. The financial provisions were inserted to make the planning powers effective, and without them they lave no teeth. My criticism is that you are removing the financial provisions and putting nothing effective in their place; and although there is an excellent code of planning, my fear is that it will not be effective.
I should now like to say a word or two about leasehold reform. Here, again, we have had a White Paper and a discussion on it. I do not want to go into this question in any detail at this hour, but I would express the Lope that in framing their legislation Her Majesty's Government will take into full consideration the discussions we have had on that White Paper. After all, our objective is the same: we want to give security to the tenant who finds himself at the end of a long lease possibly homeless, or, at any rate, in danger of being exploited in order to retain his home, and also faced with an alarming bill for dilapidations. I think the White Paper fully appreciated the evil that we were trying to solve. I only hope that the views we expressed at that time will be taken fully into consideration when the Bill is prepared.
We had a most interesting discussion yesterday about the cost of living, in which my noble and learned Leader, Earl Jowitt, my noble Deputy Leader, Lord Hall, and the noble Viscount, Lord Woolton, took part. Various figures were exchanged, and I imagine that what really happened was that each of those who spoke was able to produce figures which seemed to support his case. I do not propose to produce figures to the House, because I feel that we have had enough figures on the question of the cost of living, but I feel sure that most of us, from our own personal knowledge, would agree that the cost of living has risen since the present Government took office. There may be a dispute as to what is the exact percentage increase, but I do not think there can be any doubt that there has been an increase; and, indeed, to a certain extent, the increase has been I deliberate by the removal of subsidies. 163 I would concede that the Government did, to some extent—though I think very unevenly—attempt to equalise it by making concessions to certain sections of the population. Unfortunately, it did not work out right, because the poorest section of the population is paying the increase in the cost of living but are not getting any benefit from the provisions which Her Majesty's Government made to alleviate the distress which would be caused.
§ LORD SILKIN
Mostly not, among the poorest section of people who are getting on in years; or they have one child, and they get nothing for the first child, and they do not pay income tax. Those who have an income which makes them liable to tax have had some alleviation; and if they are fortunate in having more than one child, they certainly get an extra 2s. 6d. a week in respect of each child after the first, but I do not think the noble Viscount would suggest for a moment that that really covers the increase in the cost of living.
In the course of the discussion yesterday my noble and learned Leader referred—I hope in a not unfriendly way—to certain statements made during the two elections of 1950 and 1951 by the noble Viscount, Lord Woolton; and the noble Viscount has had an opportunity of giving his explanation of those statements. I cannot help feeling that it was not entirely satisfactory. Whether or not the increase in the cost of living has been justified was not an issue at that moment—although we feel that something ought to have been done, and that something must be done to-day about the high cost of living. The public are as much concerned about that to-day as they were in 1950 and 1951.
I was a little surprised at the statements made by the noble Viscount. For instance, it was quoted that he had stated that food would be more plentiful, more varied and would cost no more. He had to admit that it was costing more, and therefore, he merely said that he had been right on two of the points out of three. He had also made a categorical statement that there would be no withdrawal of the food subsidy—and his 164 exact words were quoted. Of course, the food subsidy has been largely withdrawn. The noble Viscount said that he had prophesied, perhaps to the best of his ability, but that he had prophesied incorrectly. But this was not a prophecy at all; this was an election pledge that the subsidy would not be withdrawn. The noble Viscount, for whom we all have a deep affection personally, and who can get away with a great deal in this House, cannot entirely get away with the statement that this was a prophecy and unfortunately it did not come off. In fact, it was a pledge that has not been kept.
§ VISCOUNT WOOLTON
You must be fair. I did not say it was a prophecy. I said two out of three were prophecies, but I did not say the other was a prophecy at all. I said that I had made a statement on my belief at the time.
§ LORD SILKIN
I take it from the noble Viscount, and I certainly do not want to enter into controversy on what he said or did not say yesterday. I certainly understood him in that way. The fact remains that it was more than a belief; it was a promise, a pledge, that the subsidy would not be withdrawn, if the noble Viscount will refresh his memory once more, I think he will find that I am right. I do not want to develop this point any further, but as the matter was raised I thought it fair to my noble friends who spoke in the debate to mention it.
Now one word about the reform of the House of Lords. Concern was expressed that we on this side felt some difficulty in entering into discussions. But are noble Lords opposite quite sure that they themselves are of one mind on this subject? This matter was referred to yesterday by two noble Lords. One was the noble Lord, Lord Brocket, who made his own position quite clear: that he opposed any kind of reform of the House of Lords, and who, I understood, said that he spoke for quite a number of his noble friends. The other was the seconder of the Address, who also made his position, if not quite so clear, at any rate quite clear. He certainly explained that there were a number of conflicting views on this subject. I thought he indicated what his own position was. Is it not really a matter of getting agreement in the noble Lords' own Party before they even 165 attempt to get agreement with the other Parties? In other words, are noble Lords opposite so sure that they will be in a position to implement any agreement at which they may arrive? May they not be in difficulties about their own friends?
The noble Lord, Lord Salter, has gone. I should like to congratulate him on a brilliant maiden speech, and I am sure that this House will be enriched by his knowledge, experience and wisdom. I believe it is not usual to comment in controversial terms about a maiden speech, and I hope I am not being unduly controversial if I say that he referred to the fact that our present financial position was due partly to good management and, he said very fairly, also to good luck. He went on to say that the good management would no doubt continue, and he hoped that he could rely upon the good luck as well. But there was another factor which I thought he omitted and which perhaps, if his attention had been drawn to it, he would have recognised, and that is the question of the use of the stockpile which the Labour Government had created. They had created a large quantity of stock, worth hundreds of millions of pounds in value, which—and I make no complaint about it—has been reduced since the present Government came into office. If you take into account both the improvement in the terms of trade—that is the piece of good luck—and the stockpile upon which Her Majesty's Government have been drawing, I think that those two together fully account for the improvement in our financial position. That is a very chastening thought, because you cannot rely for ever on the good luck, and the stockpile has been reduced; you cannot get the benefit of that again.
Lastly, on the domestic front, I wish to say a word about sponsored television. The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, who leads the Liberal Benches referred to there being three Parties in this House. Listening to him in his comments on the Address, I came to the conclusion that there were only two. The noble Viscount had no criticism whatever of any part of the Address. I admit that he very wisely reserved himself in respect of those matters upon which Her Majesty's Government had not declared itself. Of course, that is natural, but not universally acted upon. He did, however, express 166 his opposition to sponsored television. But on sponsored television there is a substantial section of supporters of Her Majesty's Government—I do not know to what extent, but certainly a very influential section—who are equally opposed. From what Lord Woolton said yesterday, it looks as if they will have the opportunity of expressing their opposition but not of voting on it in this House, which is unfortunate, and it may be that Lord Samuel will in that respect at least be able to distinguish himself from members of Her Majesty's Government. But that is the only respect in which, so far as I could gather, he had any quarrel with the items in the gracious Speech.
I had intended passing on to a few words, about international affairs, but I will cut those remarks short, because we have had an interesting and fairly extensive debate to-day and I am sure that we shall need to have another debate before long covering the whole held. It struck me as being aninteresting and somewhat disturbing commentary on the state of the world that an increasing proportion of the gracious Speeches which we receive every year is devoted to international affairs. There was a time when international affairs could be dismissed in one sentence: that relations with other countries were friendly. To-day, more than half the Speech is devoted to inter-international affairs. It is becoming more and more a matter for our attention.
I would content myself on this occasion with asking the noble Marquess one or two short questions on international affairs, and the first is on Egypt. We heard with some concern the statement of the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, on the position of elections in the Sudan. That indicates that relations with Egypt and, I presume, the discussions which are taking place, are not going as happily as one had hoped. I wonder whether the noble Marquess, can tell us something about it. There is a good deal of gossip in the Press. I do not know how true it is, but from time to time we hear that meetings have taken place and that solutions have been arrived at in principle. One of them is that there is now complete agreement about the withdrawal of our forces from Egypt. What 167 has not been settled is in what circumstances they will be entitled to return—that is, what will be regarded as aggression or danger to Egypt which will justify the return of British forces. I should have thought that that was not a very practicable matter to quarrel about, because in the last resort, in those circumstances, we should return only if the Egyptians wanted us to; we should not, I imagine, contemplate returning to support the Egyptians against their wishes. The other also seems a small point to quarrel about; it is the question whether the 4,000 British technicians who are to be left behind for a certain period are to wear a uniform, and, if so, what uniform.
§ VISCOUNT BRIDGEMAN
I should have thought that this question of a uniform was of the greatest importance to the technicians themselves from the point of view of their status and their liability to arrest under Egyptian law.
§ LORD SILKIN
The noble Viscount has raised one of my own personal difficulties. I was going to say that it may well be that there are good reasons for insisting upon uniforms; but are those reasons so overwhelming that they should be insisted upon at the expense of failing to arrive at an agreement? I should like, therefore, to ask the noble Marquess whether I am right in my assumptions, and the assumptions which are contained in the Press, that these are the two matters which are holding up an agreement, and whether he can tell us something about the progress of the negotiations.
I have difficulty in following the noble Lord's argument. Is he suggesting that a clause for the return of our troops to Egypt would be unwise because, in practice, it would not be possible to implement it unless Egypt at that moment wished to have them back?
§ LORD SILKIN
I was not making a case very strenuously: I was asking for information. It seems to me that perhaps we might be insisting on a point which may appear academic but which might be of less practical importance if the eventuality should arise. I should like to ask about the vast amount of equipment we have in Egypt. Have we any plans, as we shall have to have if we arrive at 168 an agreement, for removing this equipment, and if so, where to? Finally, on this question of Egypt, I should like to ask whether, in the happy event of our arriving at an agreement, that Agreement will come before the House for its approval or confirmation, or whether we shall be faced with a fait accompli.
My Lords, I have spoken long enough. I will conclude with a reference to the very impressive and weighty observations of the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, at the end of his speech yesterday about the moral state of the nation. I personally felt very disturbed about what he said—as I suppose everyone who heard his speech must have done. I do not go so far as to say that we are living in a decadent age, or that the present days are in any way reminiscent of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. But everything has a beginning. I do not think Lord Samuel intended that these words should be taken as indicating that we are already on the road to decline. Nevertheless, it is a very serious thought; and I think it is a beginning. It may well be that it is something we can take in hand at once, otherwise the rot may set in.
It seems to me that the present age is far too materialistic. We are not giving sufficient weight to things other than material things. It begins with our system of education. I think children are brought up to be completely materialistic; not sufficient attention is given to spiritual and religious education. I should like at some time to have the opportunity of a discussion in this House on whether our basic system of education is right, and whether we could not do something more in the development of character and idealism than we are doing now. The present system of elementary, scientific and technological education might well be considered. Sometimes I think we are over-emphasising the importance of science and technology at the expense of the arts. This is a big subject to develop this afternoon, yet it is one which the noble Viscount who has stimulated thought, might enlarge. I am sure that your Lordships' House would be glad to hear the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, who is so well-equipped to discuss a matter of this kind, and I hope that perhaps he himself will at some time initiate 169 a discussion which will give all noble Lords an opportunity of expressing their views.
I have indicated that we have a big programme in front of us this Session. Her Majesty's Opposition will have a very important part to play, and we are, of course, willing to play our part in a constitutional way, as is our duty and our prerogative. I would ask the noble Marquess the Leader of the House to do two things which might facilitate the kind of help that we on this side can give. The first is that he will give, so far as he can, adequate time for discussion of important measures. We have from time to time in the past Session been rather rushed. The flesh is weak, and we have sometimes been unable to give our full attention to matters which justified it. The second point is that I hope Her Majesty's Government will give proper consideration to the many points which have been put forward in good faith with a view to improving the measures that come before us. Given this, we on this side can assure the noble Marquess that we shall do our duty as an Opposition and that we shall carefully examine and criticise in good faith those measures which come before us, with a view to effecting improvements which will be to the benefit of the nation as a whole.
§ 6.29 p.m.
§ THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY)
My Lords, just eleven years have elapsed since I first had the great honour conferred upon me of leading the Conservative Party in your Lordships' House, and I think that ever since, with the exception of last year, I have taken part in every debate on the gracious Speech, either as Leader of the House or as Leader of the Opposition. I can therefore, I think, fairly claim that I should know the form of such debates, and my experience is this. They all follow broadly the same pattern. They start with Imo speeches, by the Mover and Seconder, which are, so far as possible, non-controversial, Then they warm up to a discussion which is definitely partisan in character, though seldom ill-tempered—owing, perhaps, to the continuing influence of the Mover and Seconder. In this second phase the Opposition, quite properly, attacks the Government for its 170 past and future policy—or lack of policy; and the Government defends itself to the best of its ability. Then there is a third and last phase, again less controversial, in which the spokesmen of the Parties, in winding up, adjure each other to eschew mere Party conflict and to regard this House as a Council of State.
The present debate, which is now drawing to its close, does not seem to me to have differed very much from that usual pattern. It started with two speeches, which I am sure everybody will have regarded as admirable, one from the noble Earl, Lord Rothes, and the second from the noble Earl, Lord St. Aldwyn. Then the debate "warmed up," if that is not too strong an expression to use, and discussion, as usual, ranged over the whole field of public affairs—domestic, Imperial, foreign. There have been the usual criticisms of the Government, their faults of commission and omission. As your Lordships remember, there have been spirited replies from my noble friends Lord Woolton and Lord Reading, on the more detailed aspects of home and foreign policy. Finally, we have just had a winding-up speech from the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, which, if I may say so, I cannot regard as unduly ferocious and which indicated rather, I think, a return to the Council of State idea.
It falls to me to say the final word from the Government side. I may be biased—probably I am—but I cannot feel that the Opposition this year, whether in their warmer or in their cooler moments, have inflicted really severe injuries upon the Government. At any rate, if I may say so, my head personally feels not very bloody and quite unbowed. I even doubted, as I listened to the debate, whether the Opposition were really anxious to hurt us. I believe the reason is this. This gracious Speech is, in fact, if we only face these things, an extremely non-controversial document. The noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, said yesterday, as we have been reminded to-day, that it was "constructive," which I take to mean very much the same thing. There is practically nothing in it with which an ordinary objectively-thinking man, so far as I can see, is likely very seriously to disagree.
In the realm of foreign affairs, if I may deal with that first, there is first, as your 171 Lordships know, a reference to a relaxation of international tension and to the preservation of peace as prime objects of our policy. That, I imagine, would be true of any Party in this country to-day. Then there is an emphasis on the Government's desire to bring about an early meeting between the Soviet Union and the three Western Powers. That, equally, I take to be common ground between us all. There is still a tendency, I believe, on the part of some sections of the Opposition—though certainly we have had no suggestion of it this afternoon, either from the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, or from the noble Lord, Lord Silkin—to harp on alleged differences of views between the Prime Minister and his colleagues. Let me then immediately remove any doubts which still exist about that matter, if such doubts there are. The Prime Minister's colleagues, let me say quite clearly, were entirely behind the Prime Minister in his proposal for high-level talks between the four Powers but, as the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, said, quite rightly, this afternoon—in effect he only repeated what I had said in this House at the end of July—the Prime Minister's proposal did not prove universally acceptable to those with whom we were associated; and, in these circumstances, it was clearly, I think, the right course to proceed, as we did, to talks on Germany at the Foreign Ministers' level, on which complete agreement could be reached between the three Allies.
As your Lordships know, it has throughout been our object to achieve this, if it was in any way possible to do so. That is, of course, the reason why the reply that was sent to Russia some weeks ago was of the most uncontroversial character that we could make it. If the Russian Government had wanted a meeting, there was no conceivable reason that I can see why they should not have accepted that invitation. As your Lordships know, the Russian reply has just been received, and the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, has already told your Lordships this afternoon that a preliminary examination indicates, I am sorry to say, that it is of an extremely negative character. However, it has not yet been studied in conjunction with our Allies. That appears to be the next step, and on the result of that study any further action must depend. I am always an optimist, 172 and I am quite certain that the policy of this Government, as I believe of noble Lords opposite, would be to get in touch with the Russians, if that was in any way a practical proposition. In the meantime, I am sure noble Lords will agree that the less I say about this the better, especially as my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary is speaking in another place this afternoon with far more authority.
Next, if I may revert to the gracious Speech, there is the paragraph which deals with support for N.A.T.O. and the United Nations. The noble Lord, Lord Henderson, referred to that subject this afternoon. That, I should imagine—indeed, it was clear from what he said—is completely common ground. The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, said he was glad that such emphasis had been thrown on the United Nations. As a member of a delegation which helped to draft the Charter, I warmly re-echo what was said by the noble Viscount about that body. I have always felt something like a mild pride of paternity in the Charter, but I do not say that one's offspring has not behaved, on occasion, rather differently from what some of us expected at the time—but that, perhaps, is the experience of all parents, and one cannot complain of it.
Nor is there anything very controversial in the paragraph which deals with good relations with the United States of America. No one, so far as I know, at any rate in this House, wants bad relations with the United States. We are experienced, and we like to think—and I believe it is true—that we are a farsighted body, at any rate, on most of the issues that we have to face; and we know perfectly well that close relations between the United States and the British Commonwealth are the only solid safeguard of peace. Do not let us make any mistake. If we were to quarrel seriously with the United States—I hope that it will never happen—the danger of war would immediately become very real. Both the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, and the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, have said that in their time. That does not, of course, mean that we must never differ from the United States Government.
While I was temporarily in charge of the Foreign Office—and in passing I should like to thank the noble Lord. Lord 173 Henderson for his congratulations to me on being relieved of that burden; actually I enjoyed my time at the Foreign Office very well, but certainly the position of a Temporary and Acting Foreign Secretary is not an entire bed of roses—there was, as your Lordships know, one particular difference between us and the United States Government to which the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, has referred this afternoon. It was a difference which arose on the question of whether or not India should be a member of the Political Conference which was to consider the future of Korea. We took a certain view about that, and I still believe, like the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, that our view was the right view. The United States Government, for reasons which seemed good to them, took a different view, and in the event, as the House knows, the United Nations supported them rather than us. I do not complain of that—I do not suppose any of us do—but I still think it right that our view should have been stated, and in the long run it may prove to have been of value.
I am not going to say anything about the present prospects of the Conference because the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, has already talked about the Conference. All I will say is that I still do not regard the situation as at allhopeless, for I fundamentally believe that both sides want a Conference, if only they can get it. One of the main difficulties, of course, as we all know, is, in very plain words, President Rhee. He is one of the main hurdles which have to be jumped, if I may express it in that way; and we should not, as some people in this country do, underestimate the difficulty facing the American Government in dealing with President Rhee. Indeed, when I was at the Foreign Office I used to feel that they deserved our sympathy, rather than our abuse over their negotiations with him.
That, my Lords, covers most of the issues of foreign affairs at the present day—at any rate, those which have been raised, except, of course, Trieste and Egypt. I hope the House will forgive me if I speak very briefly on those subjects, because Trieste, at any rate, has been pretty fully dealt with by the noble Marquess, Lord Reading. They are both at present the subject of negotiations of the most delicate kind, and any 174 unguarded word might do irreparable harm. Moreover, as I say, Trieste has already been covered so completely that there is not much that remains for me to say.
There is, however, one comment which I hope your Lordships will allow me to make here. In a recent speech in another place the Foreign Secretary very generously took on himself the whole responsibility for the Trieste policy. He did himself less than justice. I have a full share of responsibility for that action, and I most readily shoulder it. Nor have I any regrets. In the circumstances, and in view of the information which we and the United States were getting from every quarter, I believe that we had no alternative but to act, and to act as we did. Undoubtedly the best chance at that time, in my view at any rate, was to make a firm declaration of policy which did not require the agreement of both parties but in which they could acquiesce. That seemed the safest line. If Lord Henderson will remember, that is very much what Mr. Bevin and the other Foreign Ministers did in 1948. Moreover, in the present case there was very good reason to suppose that some action might not prove unacceptable. Unhappily, up to now that hope has not been realised.
My Lords, that is no reason, I think, why the Government should stand in a white sheet over events in Trieste, or over the part they have played in regard to those events. Nor is there yet any reason to assume, as some people do, with a sort of melancholy gloom, that the policy has failed. We are not through with this story yet. What reason have we to suppose that the counsels of wisdom and moderation will not prevail? Ultimately, as we all know, some settlement of this question must be reached. We cannot go on permanently lurching from crisis to crisis. This, I am sure, must be as apparent to Italy and Yugoslavia as it is to us. As your Lordships know, discussions are continuing, and, in my view, it would certainly be premature to assume that they will not succeed. If they do, the present troubles and our present anxieties will not have been in vain. For all we know out of them may come a strong and enduring settlement. I hope that will be the case. In the meantime, I would appeal to the Opposition, not in this House where they 175 are always most responsible, but outside, to show a true spirit of statesmanship—that spirit which has always inspired the British people in moments of emergency. Nothing would do more to enhance their credit, if I may say so, in the country.
I am going to say only one word about Egypt. The situation there is at present so delicate that I hope the House will not expect me to give any information about the details of the negotiations. I say that particularly to Lord Silkin. If Lord Silkin wants agreement, as I am sure he does, the fewer questions he asks just at this moment the better. I myself am certainly not going to risk the success of these negotiations by any unguarded words in this House tonight. I would only stress to all noble Lords the necessity of looking at this problem not in isolation but as part of our main strategic pattern. In my view, it is only in this way that we can form a true judgment of the right course for the Government and the country to adopt. More than that I do not want to say. I imagine that we all want an agreement, and an agreement which satisfies the needs of both countries. It is for that that the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary are striving, and if we cannot trust them I do not know whom we can trust. Lord Silkin asked one detailed question—namely, would an Agreement be submitted to this House before ratification? Well, my Lords, in regard to that, I think I can do no better than refer the noble Lord to a reply given by my noble friend Lord Reading to Lord Killearn on March 31, 1953. I will not add to that reply, but if the noble Lord will look at it I hope he will find that it gives him what he seeks.
My Lords, there are one or two other questions of an international character which I ought perhaps to answer, before I turn to the domestic field. First, I was asked by the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, for information regarding the European Nuclear Research Organisation. I explained to the House yesterday that the answer would be of a very technical character, but the noble and learned Earl seemed to want it, and so here it is—all I hope is that I shall not be asked to give any detailed explanation as to some of the terms that have been used, for that would put me 176 in a position of very considerable embarrassment. The European Nuclear Research Organisation will be concerned with "pure" scientific research into the constitution of the atomic nucleus, a matter of the highest theoretical scientific importance. It will use as its main instrument for this research very high energy (high speed) particles, "fired" at atomic nuclei by exceedingly complicated, and exceedingly costly, apparatus. This work is fundamentally different from research on what is commonly known as "atomic energy" (used for "applied" scientific purposes, military or economic). The atomic energy research uses particles of normally much lower energy than those which will be used at Geneva. In other words, the Geneva organisation will in no sense duplicate Harwell or the other Government atomic energy establishments.
In kindly giving me notice that he was going to raise this question, the noble and learned Earl referred to a "factory" in Switzerland and criticised our making ourselves partly responsible for what he appeared to be calling a "rival establishment." This makes me think that he may imagine that the Geneva work will be like that of Harwell. I hope my explanation will clear up any such misapprehension. The Geneva work will be much more comparable with work done at universities. We already have, at some of our universities, examples of the smaller type of apparatus to be built at Geneva, the synchro-cyclotron, though the Geneva one will be of a much higher power. But one of the main reasons for joining the Geneva organisation is to give our scientists an opportunity of using much larger, much more powerful, and enormously expensive, proton-synchroton (which the noble and learned Earl referred to as a proton-cyclotrone). We have no proton-synchroton in this country of anything like the strength of that planned for Geneva. The European Nuclear Research Organisation gives us an opportunity of doing research with a very large and expensive machine, while paying only a fraction of its costs. I should not have gone into such detail but the noble and learned Earl asked for it.
Even if there were to be at Geneva some duplication of forms of university research in this country, the noble and learned Earl will, I am sure, realise that 177 scientific progress often depends on different groups of workers attacking similar problems simultaneously. Informed scientific opinion in this country, focused by a special committee of the Royal Society, has been strongly in favour of full participation in the Geneva organisation.
The noble and learned Earl asked me about the provision in the draft agreement which protects the "right of the Swiss Federal Council to take the precautions necessary for the security of Switzerland." As I understood it, he asked me what this meant and in what circumstances the laboratory might be closed by the Swiss. Naturally that, I hope, may be a hypothetical question, but I understand that, while there has been no formal definition of Article 22 of the agreement between the Swiss Government and the Organisation, the Swiss Government are not likely to close the laboratory except in the event of imminent armed conflict in Europe near Switzerland. I hope that noble Lords will not press me further on the interpretation of those words. One can only hope that this point, which as I said was hypothetical, may long remain so.
The House may like to know that a White Paper covering the international agreement for the European Nuclear Research Organisation will be issued in the fairly near future. I hope that the House will agree to reserve all further comments on this question until then. Finally, in answer to the noble and learned Earl's question whether the House will have the opportunity to debate the Convention on Nuclear Research, I understand that it will be laid before Parliament for the customary twenty-one days. If Members of either House wish to object, they can, of course, do so at any time during that period. The Convention would normally be ratified at the expiration of the period.
That is the rather technical answer to the question which the noble and learned Earl asked me. Perhaps I may take the opportunity, while speaking on atomic research, of answering other questions on the same subject, though they may not be so strictly international in character. The noble Viscount, Lord Hall, in the course of his speech, asked me whether I could give any information about the transfer of atomic power research from 178 a Government Department to a statutory corporation, to which reference is made in the gracious Speech. At the present stage, I can only say that in the Government's view the development of atomic energy in this country has now reached a point at which a change of organisation is required. The strictest control of general policy must, of course, remain firmly in the hands of the Government. That must be absolutely clear to everyone. But the increasing scale of the project and the rising importance of the civil application of this new power, on which our very existence in the future may depend, have, in the view of the Government at any rate, made the normal departmental methods of control unsuitable. An organisation is required which will have more freedom to run its own affairs. The Government have, therefore, after studying the Report of the Committee under the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, to which I have already referred, decided to set up a statutory corporation. A Bill will be introduced for this purpose in due course. All these matters will be set out in full in a White Paper which will be published early next week, so there will not be much delay in the Bill's introduction.
With regard to the visit paid by Lord Cherwell to Australia, about which the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, also asked me, I have this to say. Lord Cherwell went to Australia at the suggestion of Mr. Menzies, and while he was there he saw for himself the arrangements made for obtaining scientific data from the atomic weapon tests. He also obtained firsthand information about uranium supplies in Australia and the formations in which uranium ore occurred. He had talks with Australian Ministers and the South Australian Premier on the Commonwealth and State programmes for exploration and subsequent development. I am afraid I cannot say any more than that at the present stage. As I say, the White Paper will be available next week.
§ VISCOUNT HALL
I asked a question as to whether the Report of the Waverley Committee will be published.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I am not quite certain about that. I will look into it and let the noble Viscount know.
179 Now I come to home affairs. Here, of course, the ground was fairly fully covered by the noble Viscount, Lord Woolton, in his speech last night. I do not wish to weary the House by going over the same ground again. At the same time, there are certain paragraphs in the gracious Speech to which noble Lords opposite have given special attention, and I am sure they will wish me to say something about them. First, there is the question of reform of your Lordships' House. Lord Woolton has left that question entirely to me to deal with. I have been asked to define or to expound the wording of the paragraph in the gracious Speech which refers to this subject. Noble Lords will have noted that this paragraph has been extremely carefully phrased. It does not say that the Government will introduce legislation in the present Session—that, of course, depends, first, on the progress of the investigations which we are going to make, and secondly, on Parliamentary time. But neither does the gracious Speech say that we shall not introduce legislation, and anyone who assumes that nothing is going to be done about this may prove to be very far out. Lord Silkin asked about the unity of the Conservative Party. He wanted to know whether we all agreed, and had we made inquiries about it. I think he can leave the matter of the unity of the Conservative Party to us. I should guess that he has quite enough to do in dealing with the unity of his own Party at the present time.
§ LORD SILKIN
I am just as much interested in the unity of the Conservative Party as the noble Marquess is in the unity of my Party.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
But I am not going to question the noble Lord on the unity of his Party. I would emphasise, at any rate, the importance which the Conservative Party attach to this question. It is very real. I was glad to hear from the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, that in this matter we have the support of the Liberal Party. But though I agreed with almost everything else that he said, I could not agree with him on one point. If I remember rightly, the noble Viscount said that there was unanimous agreement on the composition of a reformed House of 180 Lords in the conversations which took place in 1947 and 1948.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
It is set out in the Agreed Statement that:If it had been possible to achieve general agreement over the whole field of Powers and Composition, the Party representatives would have been prepared to give the following proposals further consideration, so as to see whether the necessary details could be worked out, and, if so, to submit them, as part of such an agreement, to their respective Parties.That certainly accords with my recollection of these talks.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
It refers to necessary details being left to be worked out. That assumes, does it not, that the main principle had been agreed?
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I could not possibly accept that. The noble Viscount and I both took part in the conversations. They were of a confidential character, which makes it very difficult to discuss this subject now. My recollection is that it is true that immense progress was made, but no definite agreement was reached before we passed from the question of composition to the question of powers. Perhaps my recollection is faulty, but I do not think it is.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
Was not that because we all agreed that we could not come to any definite agreement on composition—any final, definite agreement—until we had come to an agreement on powers?
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
The noble Viscount may be quite right, but my recollection is that though, as I say, immense progress had been made, we could not say now that supposing agreement had been reached over powers agreement over composition was, so to speak, "in the bag." I think that great progress was made and then discussions switched to the other aspect. But that is a matter of detail.
Now I turn to the views expressed by the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt. I could not for one moment accept the view expressed by him that the primary purpose of the House of Lords is to act as a revising Chamber. Excellent as I believe your Lordships' House to be in 181 that respect—I think it is indeed a very effective revisingChamber—in my view it has a much more important constitutional duty than that, and I believe my view is shared by most noble Lords who sit on these Benches. For us, the primary purpose of the Second Chamber is to act as a protection in the interest of the electorate against reckless action by the First Chamber on issues which have never been submitted to the electorate. I think that is the view which is held by nearly all noble Lords on this side. In most other countries that have written Constitutions strong safeguards are written in to ensure that amendments to those Constitutions have the full support of the people. In this country, we have an un-written Constitution, and there are, in fact, no such safeguards. Surely there must be some powers in the Second Chamber to enable public opinion to crystallise and to ensure that the views of the people must prevail.
It is really nonsense to say that the House of Commons at every moment always represents the views of the electorate. I would give the Housean example in very recent years. As we all remember, in 1948, the Government majority in another place introduced into the Criminal Justice Bill a proposal to abolish capital punishment. I do not wish to declare on the merits of that proposal; it may have been right or it may have been wrong; but one thing is certain: that it did not represent the majority views of the electorate. At that time, your Lordships' House took such action as it could to enable public opinion to express its views, and, as a result, we all remember, the Government dropped the scheme. That is a very good example of the function which the Second Chamber can and does perform.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Marquess will allow me to make this amendment. On all the other points I agree with him, but on that occasion it was not the Government majority in another place which introduced that proposal; it was a non-Party vote on a proposal put by Back-Benchers on both sides of the House. I hope the noble Marquess will allow me to say that, because I happened to be on the other side myself and in favour of the action which your Lordships' House took.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Viscount. I do not wish to misinterpret the position, although the point he has made does not alter the balance of my argument. Of course, by far the best way of dealing with any reform of the Second Chamber is that which was rightly stressed by the noble Earl, Lord St. Aldwyn, the day before yesterday. Much the best plan would be if noble Lords opposite, the official Opposition, would reconsider the refusal of their Party to renew the inter-Party talks. Their decision was received, I believe, with the deepest disappointment throughout the country, and that disappointment will be continued and increased by the unequivocal declaration which was made by the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt.
Of course, we all fully recognise that the Party of the noble Lords opposite have within their ranks two schools of thought on this subject; those who on the whole like the Second Chamber and those who on the whole do not like one at all. It is quite possible that, placed in that situation, the Leaders of the Party think it better to keep the Second Chamber, but a Second Chamber in a comparatively ineffective and vulnerable condition. Surely that view is what might be described as the unhappy mean. Neither Her Majesty's Government nor, I should have thought, the country, can accept such a position as that as a permanent solution of this question. And if the position of the noble Lords opposite is that when they are in office they have a perfect right to alter lie powers and composition of the Second Chamber, as they did a few years ago even though the other Parties were in entire disagreement with them, but that when other Parties are in power the approval of the Labour Party would always be necessary for any changes, and, in fact, their approval would not be forthcoming, that is a position that no logical man could defend at all.
As I have said, we should all infinitely prefer that a solution should be reached by agreement between the Parties. In any case, I would repeat with all the emphasis in my power what I said, I think, in 1947, that it is not the policy of the Conservative Party to set up this 183 House as a rival of the House of Commons. Nor do we regard it as a function of your Lordships' House to oppose the the will of the people or even to interpret the will of the people. All we can properly seek to do is to give adequate opportunity for public opinion to crystallise and make its view known on questions on which it has not hitherto had an opportunity of pronouncing. I should have thought that that was the minimum requirement of any Second Chamber. In view of what I have said, I hope that the House will recognise the very real importance the Government attach to an effective Second Chamber. It is for that reason we propose to give further consideration to this subject of the reform of the present body.
I do not propose to go into the details of the ideas which may have to be considered. As noble Lords know, many different schemes have been ventilated—I might almost say, innumerable schemes have been ventilated. Among them is that recommended by the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon, this afternoon. I am not going to talk about it. The noble and learned Viscount described it as having been incorporated in a Bill and said that he was quite ready to bring forward that Bill again. All I can do is to assure him that his proposals will have the fullest consideration in our new inquiries, together with others which will be before the House. I should certainly be the last to say there is not substance in what the noble and learned Viscount said to us this afternoon.
Now I should like to say a word or two on housing. On this subject the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, who wound up the debate for the Opposition, speaks with an authority much greater than I could hope to show. He raised very wide issues, but I know he will not expect me to deal with all those to-day. They must be left to be dealt with in the debate on the White Paper, which he himself envisaged. But I assure him that I will report what he said to my right honourable friend. On this question of housing, I think the whole House will agree that the Government have made a very special effort since they have been in office. They have achieved more in these last two years than a great many people thought probable. I remember that in the debate on the gracious Speechin 1951, when 184 the Government had just come in, the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, who I am sorry to see is not here to-day, used these words (OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 174, Col. 145):…the truth is that the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, at the time of this Election broadcast"—to which reference has already been made—held out the prospect of 300,000 houses plus. He knows perfectly well to-day that that is quite impossible in the immediate futureWell, that has been done: the 300,000 houses will be built this year.
I know that there are some sections of the Opposition—I do not say in this House; perhaps they are only outside—who now suggest that this result has been achieved only be concentrating entirely on dwelling houses and neglecting schools and other types of building. I am certain that the people who have expressed that view do not wish to misinterpret the position. But, in fact, that view, if it is put forward, is not an accurate one. More money has been spent on schools than in the days of the late Government—considerably more. More schools have been completed and more school places provided. I obtained the figures so that it should not be said that I am making a rash statement. I will go back to 1949, because that is a very good year for the late Government. In 1949 (I am now referring to school places) they provided 180,000 places; in 1950, 90,000; and in 1951, 130,000. In 1952 there were 159,000 provided—that is the first year in which we got going. So far in 1953 there have been 218,000 provided—giving it in round figures—and the estimate for the year ending February 1 of next year is 250,000. I do not want to say this in any controversial spirit, but it is not true to say that fewer school places have been provided. Exactly the same thing is true of schools completed. The figures I have given are for England and Wales, and do not apply to Scotland.
The real truth is that better results are being achieved in the building industry with the same labour force than was being done in the days when noble Lords opposite were in office. The reason is that the present Minister of Housing—and this is the main cause of gratitude to him—has called into play both new methods and a new spirit, and the result 185 is that output is steadily rising. But even if it had been true, which it is not, that an absolute priority has been given to dwelling-houses, I personally should not be inclined to apologise, for, after all, what are dwelling-houses? In other words, they are homes. And what are homes? As I see it, they are the basis of our whole civilisation. Without enough homes, family life would be utterly destroyed. The situation which inevitably existed at the end of a long war—and I do not blame any Government or Party for it—in which husbands had to live away from their wives, and parents had to live away from their children, was both calamitous and intolerable, and I am certain that the Government would have been right to concentrate above all on providing homes. It seems to me to be the primary responsibility of any Government, of whatever Party, to do that. I do not imagine that the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, will disagree with a word of what I have been saying.
Now, as he has said, we are preparing to tackle the problem of repair and modernisation of the older houses. It is not generally regarded as what may be called a "winner," from the purely political point of view—indeed, as your Lordships know, every Government has funked it for the last forty years. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has often pointed out to your Lordships in the thoughtful speeches he has delivered in this House on this subject, it is a problem which, in some way or other, must be tackled if the output of new houses is not to be offset and neutralised by the decay of the older ones. I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, that the purpose of the Government is not to provide a present to landlords: indeed, they will not do very well out of this scheme. The intention is only to make it possible for landlords to do their proper job. That is all there is to it. All I would ask of noble Lords at this stage is that they should look at these proposals objectively. This is not an issue out of which either Party should try to make Party capital. It seems to me that it is a great human problem on which we should all try to work together, so far as we can, for the common good. I very much hope that it is in that spirit that we shall all, to 186 whatever Party we belong, approach the problem.
I should now like to say a few words about education. Education has not played a large part in our discussions in the last two days, but I should like to welcome and support what was said by my old friend Lord Glyn, in the impressive maiden speech he delivered to your Lordships yesterday, on the importance of technological education. That is a matter with which I, as Lord President, inevitably come into close contact. I would entirely confirm everything that the noble Lord said to your Lordships yesterday afternoon. This question of technological education seems to me to be one which may, in the years to come, make the whole difference between prosperity and ruin for this country. I can only assure the noble Lord, Lord Glyn, and your Lordships, that the whole Government, and, if I may say so, in particular, the Lord President, fully appreciate the importance of it.
I now come for a moment to the question of town aid country planning. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, complained, as I understood, that we had abandoned the development charge, the distribution of the £300 million, and so on, and had gone back to what he regarded as a less good plan. I do not complain that the noble Lord should have said a kind word about his own child; it shows a very proper spirit. But, in fact, I am sure he will agree with me that, whatever the intention behind the idea of the development charge, it was not a success, in practice. The reason is this: that however the Government tried to explain it, the development charge was regarded by those concerned as a tax on development. I do not say that they were right, or that they were wrong; but undoubtedly it had, as a result, a depressing effect on development throughout the country. Equally, in the view of many, at any rate, the distribution of £300 million meant that a great many people would receive compensation who were not really entitled to it. That was the view of a great many experts. I thought the noble Lord, Lord Silkin—I do not pretend to be an authority on the subject, like the noble Lord—took too gloomy a view about the Government's present attitude. He suggested, as I understand it, that though the planning powers would continue to exist, without 187 the buttresses he had given them they would not be effective. That may or may not be so; but I would put it to the noble Lord that if they are not effective it is always possible for the Government to take action to make them more effective.
I should now like to say a word about agriculture—although it will be a short word, because, as my noble friend Lord Woolton explained last night, the Minister of Agriculture himself proposes to speak early next week and expound his policy. In such circumstances, it is clearly impossible for me to make any declaration to-day. Therefore, I only assure the House that the Government are fully conscious of the vital role which is played by agriculture in the present economy, a rôle to which the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, especially referred. Moreover, we are very conscious, too, of the fact that farmers must have security if they are to play that rôle. We do not intend in any way to relax the guarantees which were included in the 1947 Agriculture Act. The problem for us is how to adapt those guarantees to a free economy. That is the problem which we have been tackling with vigour, and, I hope, with success. I will not say anything more on this subject to-day, because there is already a Motion on the Paper in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, for next Wednesday, and that will give an opportunity of a full debate, which I can assure noble Lords the Government will welcome.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
It is hoped to have a debate in the House of Commons on Monday. I am afraid that on this particular question the Minister must speak first.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I already have it here.
The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, asked about the National Film Finance Corporation. I understand that the Government are to introduce a Bill on the National Film Finance Corporation. The purpose of the Bill will be to extend for 188 a further three years the powers of the Corporation to lend money to film production companies. I cannot at this stage tell the noble Lord any more about that matter. He also asked about the Report of the Committee which sat under the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, on the subject of charities. I understand that a Bill is being drafted which deals with one aspect of that Report, at any rate, and that in due course it will be introduced in this House. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, referred to the Evershed Report. I understand that there is no prospect of legislation on that Report just yet, but I am told that much can be, and will be, done by new rules of court and by administrative direction. So that there will be some results from that Report.
Finally—because I have kept the House for a long time—I should like to look for a moment at the general economic situation. I do not think it can be denied by anyone that the economic situation (as I think the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, said yesterday) is not so immediately dangerous as it was when the Government came into power two years ago. I do not want to overstate the case, but I think it is fair to say that. We have been warned, the day before yesterday by the noble Earl, Lord Rothes, and this afternoon by the noble Lord, Lord Salter, speaking with all his authority, in that remarkable maiden speech he delivered to us, that the situation is still precarious. That, of course, is certainly true—indeed, it may well be argued that the situation of a nation that has to import two-fifths of its food, and many of its essential raw materials, will always be precarious. But at any rate we can all rejoice that during the last two years things have improved to the extent they have. I would not attempt to suggest that this country is yet through its troubles. Apart from everything else, there is the question of the cost of living, to which considerable reference has been made during the course of the debate, though even there I believe that there has been a remarkable improvement within recent months. I have been looking again at those complicated figures which my noble friend Lord Woolton and the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, bandied across the House last night. I must confess that at one moment as I listened to the cut-and-thrust of their debate, I feared that there was definite 189 conflict of fact in what they said. I am happy to tell the House, however, that that is not the case, and that in fact both noble Lords were right, which is extremely satisfactory. Where the misunderstanding arose, I gather, was that they were not dealing with identical periods. Now here are the full figures covering the period in question, which I hope will make the position finally clear to noble Lords.
From mid-October, 1951 (that is, when the present Government assumed office after the Election), to mid-January, 1952, as the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, quite correctly said, there was a rise of 7 points—that is, 5 per cent.—in the cost-of-living index. From mid-January, 1952, to September, 1953 (that is, until last month), there was a further rise of 11 points—that is, 11 per cent.; making 16 per cent. in all. What the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, did not appreciate was that 9 per cent. out of the second rise of 11 per cent. occurred between mid-January, 1952, and July, 1952, when Lord Woolton's figures began. Therefore, Lord Woolton was quite right in saying that there bad been only a 2 per cent. rise since July, 1952. Indeed, my noble friend Lord Woolton, with his customary moderation, may be said to have understated the case for the Government; for in fact the position, at any rate with regard to those items which Ere included in the cost-of-living index, is that during the first nine months after the General Election, when the country was still suffering from (if I may use the expression), a "hangover" after the last Administration, the cost-of-living index figures rose by 14 per cent. But during the ensuing fifteen months from July, 1952, to September, 1953, when our measures became effective, the figures rose only by another 2 per cent. What is more, during the latter part of that period—that is to say, I understand, from April to September this year—there was no rise at all in those particular items. I am sure that the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, if he were here, would agree that that is extremely satisfactory. Though it is, of course, a matter which allows of no complacency in any quarter at all, it is worth noting that during the last two years the purchasing power of weekly wage rates as a whole has gone up by 2 per cent. That, at any rate, is a source of satisfaction.
190 Moreover, in considering this problem of the cost of living we should remember that there is another contributory factor in the present stringency: it is one of which we hear much less but which I believe is material to our problem—that is (and I am sure we are all glad that it should be so), that there is a steady rise in the standard of life of the British people. Every year—and I believe this applies to the vast majority of the population—we come to regard as necessities things which we previously regarded as luxuries. We can, I am sure, think of many instances of this, but I will give your Lordships one single example. I believe I am right in saying that it is admitted that £60 million more—not £60 million, but £60 million more—will be spent on sweets this year than last year, an immense increase. That in itself is an admirable thing. I understand that sweets are good for everybody. But what is undeniable is that if the people of England spend £60 million extra on sweets, they will, unless they increase their productivity and their income, have £60 million less to spend on more basic necessities. While, therefore, the last thing I want to do is to minimise the importance of checking any rise in the cost of at any rate one of the reasons why large sections of the British people find themselves so hard up at the present moment is that they are in many ways raising their standard of living, and that, of course, places an additional strain on their incomes.
These two factors, the rising cost of living and the rising standard of living, are, as I see it, inextricably interwoven one with the other. In fact, perhaps the main problem of to-day is so to increase our national income as to enable us to pay for all these new things which we are now finding so necessary; and that is ultimately, as I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Salter, will tell us, a problem of productivity. The more people who inhabit this island, and the higher their standard of life, the more we must produce and the more we must sell if we are to improve, or even maintain, that standard of life.
How are we to do this in a highly competitive world? What is the answer to that extremely difficult problem? I know that noble Lords opposite think that it is Socialism. They believe, quite 191 sincerely, that men work harder and produce more for the public than for the private employer. Personally, I do not think that is borne out by recent experience. But neither do I think that the remedy lies, or lies alone, in capitalism, in the older sense of the word—that is, a system under which the employer buys his labour as cheaply as he can, and the labourer sells his labour for the best price that he can get. That system, meritably, I should have thought, must produce friction and hamper efficiency. I still maintain—I have said it to your Lordships before, and I say it again—that the best hope lies in an industrial system in which capital and labour regard themselves as members of one body, having different functions, but each essential to the other and each playing a part in a common effort.
I do not apologise for preaching that doctrine again. I know that it is still strongly opposed both by old-fashioned employers and also, I am afraid, by old- 192 fashioned trade unionists. But it is surely common sense, and I firmly believe that it will triumph in the end. Indeed, I imagine that that doctrine is the ultimate cure of ills, international as well as domestic. It is the very fact that the nations of the world to-day refuse to regard themselves as members of one body, all interdependent on each other, but instead regard themselves as independent and conflicting entities, that has got us into our present difficulties. It is on that uncontroversial note that I should like to end my remarks to-night. It may be impossible for us all to agree on domestic or international affairs, but we all have some contribution to make. If we all make that contribution from constructive motives, then I am sure that good will prevail.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to nemine dissentience: the said Address to be presented to Her Majesty by the Lords with White Staves.
§ House adjourned at twenty-eight minutes past seven o'clock.