§ 2.40 p.m.
§ Debate resumed (according to Order) on the Motion moved on Thursday last by Viscount Runciman of Doxford—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."
§ EARL JOWITT
My Lords, I rise to continue this debate, after the two interesting opening speeches which we had the other day. We meet in new circumstances: we have had an Election; the umpire has given his decision. So far as my Party is concerned, the finger went up and we find ourselves back in the pavilion. Like all good cricketers, when we are back in the pavilion we should be wise not to dispute the umpire's decision in any way, but to consider rather exactly why the stroke we made was bad and how in future we can make it rather better. For my part, though I was on the losing side, I will say that I think this country has set an example to the world on how an Election should be conducted and carried through. I still have a profound regard for our institutions; I am bound to say that I think the umpire is generally right, and I have no sort of complaint to make about the decision. But, my Lords, though the decision has been given and, for a moment, the eloquence is stilled, it is unfortunately the fact that problems remain—you do not get rid of your problems merely by having a General Election. Of course, those problems will have a repercussion on the functioning of your Lordships' House.
I notice—and I think it is now official —that the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, has vacated the leadership of the Liberal Party. I am sure that all your Lordships feel an admiration for Lord Samuel and the contributions which over many years he has made to our debates. Personally, having for many years been brought into very close contact with him. I feel a deep affection for him, too. I congratulate the 52 new Leader of the Liberal Party. He brings to his task the priceless asset of youth, and perhaps the Liberal Party have set us all a good example in reminding us that no leader is indispensable and that when leaders of Parties get comparatively stricken in years it is as well that they should make way for somebody younger. That lesson will be borne in mind in various quarters of your Lordships' House.
So far as this House is concerned, the problem is, of course, a fundamental one, but I believe that if we look at it frankly we are bound to come to the conclusion that, in the process of years, this House has lost in influence and prestige. I suppose that that was inevitable—indeed, the noble Marquess the Leader of the House pointed out that, with the diminution of our powers, that was almost bound to happen. There are some—there may be a considerable number—who would say that this House no longer has any useful part to play in the government of the State. Certainly we do not find our doings recorded in what is termed the "popular Press." If only our proceedings here were more sensational, if somebody would run away with the Mace or deprive the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor of his wig, or we had exciting incidents of that kind, no doubt we should then figure prominently in the newspapers. I can only hope that if that day should ever come, it will be long after I have left this House.
I do not know whether or not I am in a majority, but I am one of those who believe that this House still has a useful part to play. If that is so, I am tolerably certain that we should all agree that some effective Opposition is necessary. However good a Government may be, unless that Government is confronted with an effective Opposition it is almost bound to fail; and on the assumption that this House still has a part to play (I am not meaning to be in the least controversial, and I hope that I am not) I cannot shut my eyes to the fact that in the circumstances in which we on this side of the House find ourselves, it is going to be exceedingly difficult during the next four or five years to continue to provide an effective Opposition. We are a small, though I like to think a select, band, but many of us are getting older and some of us are faced with the necessity of earning our living—I am making 53 no complaint or request, I am only stating the facts. We give our services here; we receive no remuneration, and I am bound to tell your Lordships that active co-operation in the affairs of this body is not a means to increase one's chances of earning one's living. Those are the facts and everybody knows them. So far as I am concerned, I shall certainly hope to be allowed to do my best, and I believe that that goes for all my colleagues. I thought I ought, at the outset, to point out those facts to your Lordships because I think we all know that they are true, and it is much better that we should face and consider them.
I pass more directly to the gracious Speech. I will say little about foreign affairs, although I start with them because foreign affairs are fundamental to our whole scheme of life: everything else pales into insignificance compared to foreign affairs. If we can bring about a happier relationship, if there can really be an easier relationship in Europe and the world, between the great Powers, then all kinds of prospects open before us which at the present time are almost impossible. I shall leave that matter to my noble friend Lord Henderson, who is to speak to-morrow, as this aspect of our discussion will arise then.
I should like to-day to refer to only one comparatively small topic in which I have become very interested—that is, the Near East problem of Israel and her neighbours. I hope that in the course of to-morrow the noble Marquess the Leader of the House, who I believe is to reply on these topics, may be able to say some words which will give us hope and encouragement on this matter. If only we could get recognition of the fact that Israel is there, that Israel is a fact and that Israel is going to continue to be a fact, if we can get that firmly recognised on all sides, then all sorts of adjustments may be made at the present time. And all sorts of adjustments may be made, particularly with regard to the problem of the refugees. I saw those refugees. I have never seen any other refugees; and I never want to see any other refugees. No one can see that problem face to face without realising what a challenge it is to our civilisation. In my belief, up to this date we have failed to deal with it. I am not making the smallest attack on our Government: 54 this is a problem which transcends our particular Government; it is a problem which concerns the United Nations.
As I tried to point out on a previous occasion—and in this matter I was joined by the most reverend Primate the Lord Archbishop of York, whose absence to-day we all regret and for whose recovery we all hope—it is a terrible problem. I must say that I regard the Archbishop as a very old personal friend and for his opinions I have the greatest regard; but I was distressed to see the letter he wrote recently, which seemed to me to depart altogether from the more or less judicial point of view that we ought to take on this matter. The wrongs are not all on one side, and I believe that it is only by maintaining our judicial point of view that we can be useful in trying to put this matter right. I sincerely hope that the noble Marquess, in the course of his speech to-morrow, will be able to give us some ground for hope about this matter, and, at any rate, let us understand that our Government regard it as a most urgent question which at all costs must be tackled, in the interests of the peace of the world.
That is all I have to say about foreign affairs. For the rest, the gracious Speech mentions three topics, and those topics are of such fundamental importance that, to my mind, everything else in the Speech pales into comparative insignificance. The Government proclaim that they are going to strengthen the balance of payments. I sincerely hope they succeed. I do not pose as an expert on this matter. I remember that the Chancellor of the Exchequer said a year or two ago (I think I am right in so saying) that the least we ought to aim at was the strengthening of our balance of payments to the extent of some £300 million a year. I am sure he was right. I am convinced that if things go wrong in America it will be impossible to insulate this country against the consequences that will follow. No Government can do that. It is easy, on the hustings, to blame the Labour Government for what happened in 1951; but it would have happened to any Government and it will happen to any Government if like circumstances occur again. Therefore, when times are comparatively good we must aim at strengthening our balance of payments. That I believe to be the most fundamental question of all. I am not 55 attempting to assign blame or anything of that sort; but it is the hard fact, I believe, that at the present moment we are not strengthening our position in that regard. We may not be weakening it, but we are certainly not strengthening it. That is one of the problems that remain after the Election, and the Government, rightly, to my mind, put its solution in the forefront of their ambitions.
The second point which they admit they have to achieve is the maintenance of full employment. And full employment must be maintained. Without that our productive capacity cannot possibly be maintained, still less increased. And, with that, the Government must check the dangers of inflation. That, in itself, is a problem which may well baffle any Government. The Government must put a stop to this rise in prices, without endangering full employment. If they can do that, then they will deserve, in five years' time, or four years' time, or whatever it may be, a renewal of the confidence which the electorate have recently placed in them. But if the Government do not achieve that, then different consequences may follow. I have reached an age when I do not bother very much about political advantages in four years' time, and I devoutly hope that the Government will succeed in achieving that result.
I would say this, however. I warn you, from my experience, and from my point of view, that it is going to be an extraordinarily difficult thing to do. I would beg you to go into this fight to achieve that end without having your hands tied behind your backs, not saying you will not adopt this, that or the other method in any event, but keeping all the weapons you ought to have to achieve those results. If you achieve those three results; if you can strengthen our balance of payments; if you can preserve full employment; if you can stop the rise of prices, then everything else is comparatively unimportant. All the projects of legislation which are foreshadowed in this Speech must, to my mind, be looked at from that point of view: will they assist those objects or not? An adequate road service—that plainly will increase our capacity for production. Reduction of pollution by smoke and fog—that plainly will increase the health of the people; and the health of the people is a factor in assisting the 56 achievement of greater productivity. A better system of rating and valuation—admirable. Better railways—that is all to the good, because it means increased facilities for transport. Then there are the proposals concerning copyright and the like. All these things must be judged from the point of view: do they or do they not contribute towards those three objects?
Certain things, I think, are obvious. If the Government are to achieve those three objects we must all work together. Everyone, in all sections of the community, must contribute of his best; and we must develop to the utmost our natural resources, both human and material. Of course, the health and wellbeing of the people conic first, for the greatest asset any nation can have is a happy, prosperous and contented people: without that you will do nothing. And I include the old people. I am not going to talk about them to-day, because I understand that Lord Beveridge is to speak later, and he will very likely speak about this subject—it is one upon which he talked to us not long ago.
Apart altogether from health and welfare, I will say one word on education. If we are to achieve these objects and increase productivity, almost the first thing we have to do is to try to improve the education of the people. During the term of the last Government, perhaps owing to the increased influx of children, education was held back rather than put forward. The size of classes did not improve at all. I had something to do with education once, and I tell your Lordships that it is absolutely impossible to teach a class of sixty children. I do not know whether public school education is better than education in the State schools, but I happen to be interested in one of our great public schools, at which I noticed that there are about sixty masters and assistant masters for 800 boys. I do not suppose that there is a class in that school which has more than twenty pupils. I beg your Lordships to see that education is given its proper part and has a proper share of the national income, because it is the fact that during the lifetime of the last Government the share of the national income which was spent on education was less than the proportion of the national income the Labour Government were spending on 57 education when we went out of office in 1951.
I am delighted to see that the facilities for technical education are going to be extended. Thinking over my experience in this House in the last Parliament, believe that one of the most important debates we had was that initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Cilyn, on technological education. If this country is to achieve what we all desire, and if it is to maintain its place in the world, it is essential that, from the technological point of view and not merely from the technical point of view, we should be equal to, and even ahead of, the other countries in the world. I know that the noble Marquess the Leader of the House has this subject at heart. I will say once more that, thinking over the debates we had in the last Parliament, I believe that that on technological education was the most important of them all; and I consider that there is no greater contribution we can make to achieve the very difficult objectives we have set is front of us than its improvement. I should like to see a far greater scientific outlook applied to all our problems in this country than is applied to-day.
For the rest, if we are to achieve these objects, it is obvious that we must develop our land and our other resources. We must develop our land, whether it be for the production of food or for forestry. In the last Parliament I called attention to the fact, and the noble Earl, Lord St. Aldwyn, gave the figures, that there are two million acres in this country which are producing nothing and which are going back. Historically, they are copy-hold lands, and, that being the case, we are not entitled to put a plough into them or open them up or produce better grass. When I raised this matter, a noble Lord from the Liberal Benches referred to the old days of enclosure and asked whether I advocated that the commoners should be deprived of their rights. Of this I am quite certain: it cannot be right that two million acres of our very small area should be allowed to go derelict, to fall out of use. I do not mind who gets it, whether it be commoners or the State, or whom you will—if it cannot he used for food, let it be used for forestry. I believe that to be absolutely fundamental.
58 In connection with these open spaces. I looked up what had been said in the opening speeches of the last Parliament, and I noticed a speech by the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster—and a very interesting speech it was. The noble Viscount said that what he was saying would be unpopular—namely, that he was satisfied that there were some pastures in this country which were under-grazed, there was much exhausted grazing land which should be ploughed up, and we ought to give more power to our agricultural committees. I believe what he said to be right and I want to ask the noble Viscount who is going to reply to this debate whether he is prepared to do that. Is that the policy of the Government? We do not want to be frightened about this matter. I believe that the Crichel Down case has so got into your blood that you are inhibited now from doing anything at all. You are not prepared to turn out a thoroughly bad farmer, even though you are satisfied that he is a thoroughly bad farmer, because you are frightened of the repercussions from Crichel Down. I devoutly hope I am wrong. I devoutly hope that your Lordships realise that, with the small acreage of land we have in this country, we simply cannot afford to have any of it inefficiently farmed. Although we should treat these people with every consideration and help there in every way, in the last resort, if we find that there is inefficient farming, it is far better to get rid of the inefficient farmer and put in somebody who will farm efficiently.
I do not say for one moment that I think farming in this country is inefficient—indeed, I think very much the contrary. I took a very small part in the Election, but the part I did take was in Norfolk and Su folk, particularly, I am bound to say now, in South West Norfolk, where we registered our only win. As I went about the countryside I thought that farming was extraordinarily good, but I thought then, as I have thought before, that the one respect in which we fall down is in our grass farming. I most firmly believe that in our grass farming our farmers have something to learn, that they may possibly do better. I hope the Government will consider that point, because we shall never put right our balance of payments unless we are producing every single ounce we 59 can of food, and of timber too, from the very limited land we have in this country.
I was delighted to see the announcement in the newspapers yesterday that the Government atomic power scheme, though I described it as an imaginative scheme, is to be greatly increased. I have been in contact with people who know about this subject, and I am told that if this country develops as we all hope it will, within the next twenty years we shall require 3½ times as much electrical power as we have to-day. That would require an extra 100 million tons of coal, and that is absolutely impossible to get. The only way we can get this extra electricity is from the use of atomic power. In atomic power for peaceful purposes, I believe we are equal to, if not ahead of, any other country in the world. For goodness sake, let us keep ahead ! I was delighted to see that we are going to build six more power stations, but, even with the ten we have, these will be nothing like sufficient to cope with the increased demand for electricity which is anticipated. Noble Lords opposite know far much more about this subject than I do, but if my figures are right (and they will be able to check them), that it is probable that in the next twenty years we shall have this vast new requirement for electricity, then I think they will agree that even the new scheme they have announced is not enough—I am not criticising; I realise that it must be controlled by finance and other factors—and that as time goes on they will have to make that almost their first care, in order that we may be able to produce enough electricity to make ourselves thoroughly efficient.
I have one specific question to ask on the development of our resources, of which I have notified the noble Viscount, Lord Woolton, and about which I should like to hear something. I do not know enough about the subject to criticise, but I do know sufficient about it to ask questions. One of the products which is most essential to agriculture is potash, and hitherto we have always been dependent on foreign countries for our potash. But some years ago—I think it was in the lifetime of our Government, but I am not certain of my dates—it was discovered that there was a vast underground sea (if that is an appropriate expression) of potash in the Scarborough 60 area. We all thought what a wonderful thing it was, and that at long last we might be independent of foreign countries for our potash supply. And not only is that important from the point of view of the balance of payments, but it may well be important, also, from the strategical point of view. I have heard nothing more about that discovery, and nothing further seems to have happened. Would it not be desirable that this country should develop that potash? Does it follow that we shall always be able to get from abroad the potash required for an efficient agricultural industry?
I realise that it might be an unprofitable undertaking to develop this source of supply. I realise that it might be a case for a nationalised corporation—and I do ask your Lordships not to assume that all nationalised corporations are bad. I went about south-west Norfolk and said: "There are two equally unscientific propositions: one is that you should nationalise everything, and the other is that you should nationalise nothing." No doubt, we should draw the line differently—we on this side should include some things, and no doubt noble Lords opposite would not—but I believe there are cases where obviously we ought to have nationalisation. I do not suppose that anybody in his senses would desire to "unscramble" the electricity nationalisation, even if he could. That is not to say that it is perfect, or that it cannot be improved; but it has done a fine job of work, and no one, I am sure, wants to "unscramble" it.
I remember, in the days when I rather fancied myself as a golfer, going out to play with an elderly gentleman who played with only one rusty club; and I was rather hurt to find that he beat me quite easily. He had only this one club, but he was a good golfer, and he would have been much better if he had had a few more clubs, at any rate if he could have commanded their use. I feel that noble Lords opposite are going into this difficult battle, like my golfer, with one club. It seems to me that the only control that will be exercised is the financial control, and that the Government do not contemplate that there can be any other regulations. I do not want regulations for the sake of having them, but I here state my belief that I do not 61 believe the Government can win the extremely difficult battle which lies before them if they go into the battle with this one rusty iron club: in appropriate cases they must have all measures at their disposal. But I am afraid noble Lords opposite are so tied by their own slogan, "Set the People Free!" that they will not have any regulations other than the financial control, even though they are necessary.
I pass now to monopolies. I do not for one moment say that all monopolies are bad. In these days of large-scale production, where the larger the production the cheaper it can be, it would be setting the clock back, in my view, to contemplate, as in the Victorian days, that there should be a large number of small industries all competing with each other. But what I say is that a monopoly which masquerades as being effective, competitive enterprise is bad. If, in the steel industry, the building trade, or any other trade, there are to be rings and monopolies, then they ought not to go through the farce of all tendering at the same price, because that really conceals the true position. I do not know whether by noble friend Lord Quibell is here at the moment, but I know that he has something to say about the building trade monopoly. We must develop our resources in every way we can, and I believe that in many respects this country has done so very well.
Let me give your Lordships an illustration of a particular trade in which I am only indirectly interested. I happen to be President of the British Travel and Holidays Association—1 take no part in the effective running of the organisation, but I am on occasion a more or less indifferent figurehead. It is remarkable what we have done there, and I think it might be mentioned, even though it is by me. The best year we ever had before the war was 1937, when we had under 500,000 visitors, and they brought us in cash, including the fare paid to British steamers or British air lines, £40 million. In 1946 and 1947, we had not attained that figure, but by 1948 we had passed that record; and last year our total tourist income was no less than £137 million, of which £50 million came from persons who lived in the hard currency countries. Indeed, from the point of dollar earnings this is now our most important industry, and is is seventh on our 62 list of industries. To my mind, that shows what can be done, and I feel that great tribute is due to our hoteliers who have to cater and provide for these people.
I believe that if we had more accommodation in this country we could double the present figures. We had 900,000 visitors last year, and this year we should certainly have had one million. If I had been asked a month ago I should have been prepared to wager anything on our getting over one million visitors, many of them our friends from the United States and Canada. Of course, these strikes have had a most unfortunate effect. It is not only the railway strike which has been present in our minds recently. I venture to think that more important than the railway strike is the dock strike, and also very important, in its effect on the tourist industry, is the unofficial strike of the seamen which has prevented our ships from sailing. I am glad to find that the Government are going to set up some kind of inquiry into the working of the dock scheme. I think that is right. We suffer in this country from the fact that we live, as we must all realise, in a post-war age yet still have a pre-war system of employment and wages. I remember Mr. Ernest Bevin, who was one of the wisest men I ever met, pointing out to me that some day somebody would have to tackle that problem. He put his hand en my shoulder and said, "I hope to God it is Lot me". But it must be tackled, some day or other, because unless we get that structure right and sound, we shall never be able to achieve the results which the Government promise, and which we all desire.
I have finished what I have to say. I have not attempted to make a controversial speech. I have tried to point out the issues which I believe confront this country, and I have expressed my doubt about the Government's capacity to carry them out unless they are prepared to avail themselves, in case of need, of every remedy which may lie to their hand. All the same, if they can achieve what they have promised to achieve, then indeed they will deserve well of their country.
§ 3.22 p.m.
§ LORD LAYTON
My Lords, I heard with great interest the all-Party appeal of the noble and learned Earl who has just sat down in regard to certain major problems of economic policy which are 63 needed in order to win the battle that lies ahead of us. I can assure him that, so far as the Liberal Peers are concerned, they agree entirely with that point of view, because it is indeed a great battle that lies ahead. I shall also follow the noble and learned Earl by considering the three aspects of the Speech briefly. The first is foreign affairs. Her Majesty's Government, and in particular the Prime Minister, have notable progress to their credit in this field. The Paris Treaties and the setting up of Western Union have been ratified comparatively recently, and since we discussed these subjects. The Austrian Treaty has brought, at all events, a forward move for the long-suffering Austrian people, who have watched their fate being discussed now for a whole decade—I suppose the longest negotiations of any treaty in history. And, finally, we understand that it is practically certain that Four-Power talks will shortly be held. That is not a bad "bag" for two months.
So far as the Four-Power talks are concerned, it is, of course, idle to prophesy the outcome of that meeting. It will be watched all over the world with both hopes and fears. The Prime Minister was perfectly right in warning the public not to expect rapid or immediate results. After all, Sir Winston Churchill, in urging that these meetings should be held, constantly said that the first purpose was to establish confidence between the heads of the Soviet Union and the heads of the free world. That remains the first purpose. But it takes a long time to do. It will take even more time to eliminate or reconcile conflicting interests. We must assume that the two main purposes of the Soviet Union remain unchanged. They are, first, to try by every possible means to get the United States out of Europe; and, secondly, to detach Western Germany from the rest of Western Europe. We might look forward a little more clearly to the outcome of these talks if we knew for certain who is the Russian who sits in the snow on the summit.
I will not follow the tour of the world that is attempted in the gracious Speech. So far as foreign affairs are concerned, I want to ask for an assurance on only one minor matter, which happens to be one in which I am specially interested. In the second paragraph of the Speech refer- 64 ence is made to the United Nations, to N.A.T.O. and to Western Union. Now there is no reference in that paragraph to the Council of Europe. The text might be taken to imply that Her Majesty's Government had shifted their interest: from the Council of Europe to Western Union. I am quite sure that that interpretation is not intended, since the policy of the Government is to tie Western Union as closely as possible to the remaining countries who constitute the Council of Europe, and not to leave out in the cold the European democracies who do not form members of the seven I believe an assurance to that effect it connection with the text of the Speech would be useful.
The second section of the gracious. Speech to which I wish to refer relate: to legislation. I do not propose to dea at length with that. The list of items includes some overflow from the last Session and a number of new suggestions perhaps not very exciting, some of then long overdue. Certainly we shall all IN gratified if the Smoke Abatement Bill when it becomes an Act, really doe: something to eliminate the condition or affairs from which we too long have suffered in the metropolis. But those art matters to be considered when the time comes. The third group of paragraphs it the Speech contains, as has already beer said, the most important items. They affect in the main the sphere of administration, and foreshadow the direction and trend of the evolution of our economy as the Government conceive it.
I will take three groups in that series of paragraphs: first, international trade second, basic development, which has al ready been referred to by the noble and learned Earl, and third, incentives and matters which influence or can influence the expansion of our economy in general First, there are two paragraphs which refer to international trade. One is concerned with expanding international tradefor a further advance towards a free flow o international trade and payments.I think no one will disagree with this fact: that we cannot hope to get an expansion at home without that expansion in our international trade. The second paragraph is perhaps not altogether it line with the first, for that forecast; legislationto permit the imposition of countervailing am anti-dumping duties on imported goods.65 That is not so obvious. The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, will speak on that subject later in this debate. I would only say that commercial war may in fact be sometimes justified, but the experience of the last ten years, perhaps more than any other period in our life, has shown how much more effective you can be in gaining outlets for your trade by agreement and by discussion in advance rather than by using weapons. We on these Benches are rather alarmed at the prospect of fiscal rearmament.
The second of the aspects of the gracious Speech to which I have referred deals with the national development of this country. The previous speaker has already mentioned the three paragraphs concerned; they are those dealing with the development of the roads, the development of the railways and nuclear energy. These three subjects are concerned with the equipment of this country as a great industrial unit and with the power which we shall subsequently handle. On that matter, I want to say that those are the right three points on which the Government should concentrate to bring Britain up to date as an industrial competitor in the world. Further. I think there is unanimous agreement that all those three, whatever may happen in other spheres, are matters which should be the subject of Government control. They fall within the public domain. I would add that the Government will do infinitely better to concentrate on these three during the next ten years—I am not suggesting what Government may be in power over the whole of that period of the next ten years—rather than fumble with bits and pieces of the great chemical industry, or the insurance industry, or, still more, engage in speculative investment in private businesses, scattered here and there over the economy in general, as has been suggested in some quarters note, in passing, that these three—the roads, the railways and nuclear energy—are the three spheres which the six Powers who set up the Coal and Steel Community will examine together as matters on which helpful results may come front international cooperation. This country will do well to keep its eye on those discussions and perhaps in the end associate itself with certain of those activities, certainly in the case of nuclear energy.
66 I come to the third aspect, and that is, how to stimulate the economy generally with—again I quote one of the phrases of the gracious Speech—the co-operation of employers and workers.This proposition, in conjunction with that for full employment, is, as the noble and learned Earl has already said, quite rightly put as the "No. 1 paragraph" in the whole section dealing with home affairs. We must fully develop this concept of co-operation. It is not difficult to fill in gaps. Uppermost in our minds to-day, obviously, is the question of industrial feeling. One of the conditions for expansion is clearly the removal of the overhanging threat and menace of strikes. The last half-century in this country has seen an immense development of every sort and variety of institution for dealing with industrial relations. Those institutions are doing splendid jobs, but their recent failures have caused great uneasiness in the public mind.
There was a passage in the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Runciman of Doxford, in which he put his finger precisely on the reason why there is so much anxiety on this matter. He said [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 193 (No. 2), Col. 14]:It is a fact which I think deserves some consideration that one of the effects of the Welfare State in this closely integrated and complicated society in which we live is to make the effect of a strike less grave upon those who strike—for they are protected by social legislation against the worst consequences of being in a position where they do not earn for a long period—arid more grave in its effects upon everyone else.
§ VISCOUNT STANSGATE
May I ask the noble Lord, who speaks with such authority, does he really mean that he is going to implement or assist the settlement of a strike by withholding public assistance from women and children who may be suffering by it?
§ LORD LAYTON
Nothing of the kind. I do not suggest it for one moment. I am simply quoting a statement that appeared in the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Runciman of Doxford, to the effect that strikes in present circumstances are less severe in their effect upon those who strike and possibly very much more severe on all the rest of the country. The first part of that proposition emerges from the existence of a Welfare State. I am not suggesting for one moment that it 67 should be taken away—that is not the point—but it may create a situation in which people are more ready to embark upon a strike. That is the point I wish to make. But the effect on the rest of the community may, perhaps, be exaggerated. Indeed, the history of the last three weeks has shown tremendous resilience and capacity for carrying on with an emaciated train service.
Nevertheless, I think that the proposition of the noble Viscount, Lord Runciman of Doxford, is absolutely right, not as read in the context of this or that event in this week or last week, but taken in conjunction with the extremely precarious position of the British economy as a whole. If we lose export trade and that state of affairs drags on over a period, who can be sure that we shall regain it? If there is a disturbance in the price level, what is that going to do to our competitive position? Britain has no reserves as she had before the last war, and still more at the time of the First World War, when she had millions of investments overseas and was a creditor country. She is vulnerable and, for that reason, the public is rightly more concerned than ever it was with the damage that may be done by strikes. This is not the moment to go into the methods of checking it. I merely mention it as one of the matters which are of major importance if we are to have an expanding and developing economy.
All sorts of suggestions have been put forward—ballots; distinction between official and unofficial strikes; distinction between vital industries and so on; the revival of what used to be called years and years ago Whitleyism; and discussion well before strikes develop. That is an important consideration. It is not a new problem, it is an old one; but I suggest that it needs thinking out again to see what can be done with those institutions to make them more effective in avoiding the disturbances which we are experiencing at the present time. But, at best, such institutions cannot in themselves bring about industrial peace. In this matter, as in international warfare, prevention is better than cure. We have to create a climate of agreement.
In that context, I want to refer to only two points. One of them has been dealt with and underlined by the noble and learned Earl. We must stop inflation. 68 Consider, for example, how many of the disturbances in the recent series of strikes and unrest might have been avoided if we had had a stable price level for a longer period. How are the Government to deal with that problem? Again using the phrase that the noble and learned Earl has used, every weapon must be used. You may have to use freer imports to keep the price level down and use your Commission to control monopolies; and, above all, you must use your monetary policy. There is ample evidence that inflationary influences are still at work in the economy of this country. It is bursting out in the Stock Exchange boom which is going on at present. You cannot have a Stock Exchange boom and not expect repercussions from it. The psychological effect of the Stock Exchange boom, in which great fortunes are made quickly, is to create the danger of starting a new spiral of rising prices and wages. My own impression is that the authorities must be watching the present situation with considerable anxiety.
That brings me to the final point I wish to make. A long-term policy is needed to secure between the workers and employers the unity of interest referred to in the gracious Speech. That matter is not developed in the gracious Speech, but it was developed by the Prime Minister in his speech in another place. The most promising policy is to give workers, by profit-sharing, co-partnership and things of that kind, an interest in the prosperity of their industries. Let me say, in passing, that profit-sharing, by itself, is not enough. To use the jargon of present day, you cannot have a property-owning democracy unless you go further and give some controlling interest in the management of industry. This has long been part of the Liberal programme. At long last the United States is showing signs of taking action in this direction in a big way, in the agreements just made with the Ford Motor Company, with General Motors, and so on. In this country, Imperial Chemical Industries, Rolls Royce and others are doing the same thing. There are signs that it is being appreciated that this is not just a fad, as is sometimes thought, but that it may be part of the answer to the problem of incentive and of getting the wholehearted support of work-people in the industries with which they are concerned.
69 This is not the time to discuss these questions in detail. There is no standard formula, and therefore it will be difficult to legislate in regard to these matters. There is no short road to legislation which would bring about those things and so transform the climate in our social structure. The Government could stimulate the development in certain ways. Much the most important, at all events in the first instance, is by making tax inducements. I am sure that the most needed course is for the Government, at a very early stage, to consider the introduction of far-reaching tax inducements to businesses of all kinds to start their own schemes of profit sharing and, still more, of co-partnership. My Lords, there are other interesting matters but I have already spoken full time on these subjects. Subject to some queries, some of which I have mentioned, the statement as a whole is a good one, from our point of view of the road of evolution. From the Government's point of view, the real result will spring from the energy and effort which they put into carrying it out.
§ 3.44 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE
My Lords, I should like to begin by offering my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, on his appointment to the office of Minister of State for Scotland, and by expressing the hope that his tenure of this office will be marked by successful progress in the numerous branches of Scottish administration for which the Secretary of State and the noble Lord are now responsible. Since the present Government took office in 1951, great advances have been made in the devolution of Scottish affairs. I do not think it can be said that the policy of this Government has been forgetful of Scottish sentiment or Scottish interests. They have created a record in house building which has surpassed all previous records by no less than 50 per cent.; and not unsatisfactory progress has been made in the building of new schools, reducing the size of classes, which has been so rightly urged upon us in his speech by the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, and in the expansion of our social services. The Government have also created a record in the number of Scottish Ministers to whom they have given office. The increase in the number 70 of Scottish Ministers from three to five is by no means out of proportion to the additional burden of work which has been laid upon their shoulders, and I have no doubt that my noble friend will find himself a good deal busier than even the most industrious of his colleagues who sit on the Government Front Bench.
The principal piece of Scottish legislation which is promised us in this Session in the gracious Speech is the reform of the rating system in the light of the recommendations of the departmental committee—that is to say the Sorn Committee, who presented their report in September of last year. In a debate on the Address it would be inappropriate to enter into the details of this excellent Report, which I hope will soon form the basis of legislation. Therefore, all I will say now is that I think the Report has omitted no consideration which was relevant to its subject. Its arguments and its conclusions are admirably presented by men of the highest authority and distinction, including the noble Lord opposite, Lord Greenhill, who was a member of the Committee.
For a very long time it. has been widely recognised that one of the reasons—indeed, perhaps the main reason—why the Scottish housing problem has always been so much more intractable than the English one is the incidence of owners' rates, some of the more fantastic results of which are clearly brought out by this Report and the consequences of which have been nothing less than disastrous in stopping the building of new houses and the repair of old ones. But successive Governments have shrunk from tackling the problem, through fear that any measure of reform, however careful its safeguards might be, should be regarded as an attempt to benefit the owners of house property at the expense of the tenant. I am afraid that it is not an altogether creditable reflection on the political system of this country that a reform which is so plainly desirable should have been delayed for so long for no better reason than fear of political misrepresentation. Before the war, the Conservative Government: of which I was a junior member, thought that the problem was rather too thorny to be tackled at that time. During the war, Mr. Torn Johnston, who was Secretary of State for Scotland in the Coalition Government, 71 appointed a Committee, also under the chairmanship of Lord Sorn, which recommended that owners' rates should be frozen; but nothing was done about it although the problem went on getting worse from year to year.
Whilst I certainly could not go out of my way to blame the post-war Labour Government for failing to do something which the pre-war Conservative Government equally failed to do, I always thought it a great pity that the recommendations of the first Sorn Committee should have been ignored and disregarded for so long. But now we have this Report from the second Sorn Committee, with wider terms of reference, which is alluded to in the gracious Speech and which is signed with unanimous agreement by men of widely differing political views. I am sure that the legislation which Her Majesty's Government intend to introduce will be directed solely to the purpose of solving the Scottish housing problem, and I hope that it is not too much to expect that when this legislation is introduced it may go through with as much general agreement and as little Party controversy as may, in the circumstances, be possible.
The only other part of the gracious Speech to which I should like to refer is that passage in which Her Majesty's Government undertake to press forward with their "far-reaching programme" of road construction and improvement. A short time ago the responsibility for road construction in Scotland was transferred from the Ministry of Transport to the Secretary of State, although the transfer does not become effective, I believe until April, 1956, so that the Secretary of State and the noble Lord are not yet responsible for Scottish transport. I have no doubt, however, that they are indulging in a certain amount of intelligent anticipation on the subject, and equally I have no doubt that they will receive a great deal of advice from a great many different quarters, some of which may perhaps be more intelligent than others.
The undertaking of Her Majesty's Government, announced at the beginning of this year, I believe, by the Secretary of State, to proceed with the construction of a road crossing over the Forth at Queens-ferry was received with widespread satisfaction in Scotland. I very much hope that' circumstances may soon make it possible for a similar undertaking to be 72 given in regard to the construction of a road crossing over the Tay at Dundee, for unquestionably this will have to be done sooner or later; and if both these bridges could be built at the same time very considerable savings in the cost of construction might be effected. I think it is sometimes forgotten that a public undertaking to build a road bridge over the Tay was given as long ago as 1923, on behalf of the Government of that time, by Sir William Joynson-Hicks. The delay of thirty-two years since then is not entirely due to procrastination. We had the economic crisis of 1931, followed by a policy of economic deflation; then we had the war, followed by a prolonged and severe shortage of essential materials, which is now being overcome.
But during this period of thirty-two years' delay, industry and agriculture have not been standing still in that very important economic area in the East of Scotland, comprising the counties of Angus and Fife, and the Carse of Gowrie, which would be most immediately affected by the building of a Tay road bridge. In the centre of this area there is the City of Dundee, which has now become the second industrial city in Scotland, not in size but in the contribution which it makes to the industrial and commercial wealth of our country. There are now between 80,000 and 90,000 insured persons engaged in productive employment in the City of Dundee alone, and very great capital sums have lately been spent on modernisation of old industries and on the establishment of new ones, including one of the finest industrial estates in the country which has been built up under the Development Areas Act; and in the counties of Angus and Fife the number of insured workers in industry and agriculture together is about 240,000.
The whole of this economic region, which contains some of the most progressive industrial centres and some of the richest agricultural land in great Britain, is cut in two by the estuary of the Tay; and the existing facilities for communication across this estuary, which were good enough for the days of horse and rail transport, are totally out of keeping with the needs of modern industry and modern commerce and, of course, of modern agriculture, which depends so much on road traffic for its prosperity. I have often thought that one of the main reasons for the industrial leadership of Great Britain 73 in the nineteenth century was the rapidity and vision with which our British railways were planned and built; and it may well be that our pre-eminence in this century will similarly depend on our enterprise and foresight in road construction. For modern industry, road transport is like the arteries in a man's body. Just as a man cannot be healthy unless his arteries are efficient, modern industry cannot flourish unless it enjoys rapid and easy transport facilities.
When the decision about the Forth Bridge was announced, a Question was put down in another place, in February, concerning the project of the Tay Bridge, and the reply then given by a representative of the Ministry of Transport caused a certain amount of disappointment, not because Her Majesty's Government were unable, at that moment, to give any undertaking in the matter, but rather because the terms of the Answer suggested that the Ministry had not really comprehended the nature of the problem about which they were being questioned. Since then, however, in March of this year, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has been good enough to receive a deputation on the subject, led by the Lord Provost of Dundee, and the reply which my right honourable friend gave to this deputation was, I think, helpful and sympathetic, for he indicated that he would not object to the early formation of a local committee to work out all the engineering and financial problems which arise from the proposal to construct this bridge. Steps have already been taken to set up this committee, which I hope will come into existence within the next week or two. I hope that it will contain representatives of all the local authorities concerned, both large and small, in the counties of Angus and Fife, together with the City of Dundee.
Preliminary inquiries have given some reason to hope that the cost of constructing the bridge, including the cost of approach roads, may be very much less than—possibly not more than one half—the estimate of £10 million which has usually been current since the end of the war. But whether the cost is greater or smaller, it ought, in my view, to be regarded as an item of capital expenditure. I always forge: whether, in our modern Budgets, capital expenditure is described as being "above the line" or "below the line"—-I think it is "below 74 the line." It seems to me that expenditure of this nature, which, of course, would be spread out over a number of years, ought properly to be regarded as a capital investment. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has lately advised this country to invest in prosperity, and I do not think it would be possible to conceive a wiser or more profitable investment in the prosperity of this country than the construction of this bridge, or an investment which would make a more fruitful contribution, in relation to its cost, towards the Government's aim of doubling our standard of living within the next twenty-five years. It would be unreasonable to expect the Government to make any decision on this matter until after they had been presented by a well-instructed local, committee with all the most up-to-date evidence on the subject and with an informed estimate of the probable expense. I hope very much, however, that this evidence may very soon become available, and I hope that the commencement of work on both these Scottish bridges may be one of the many things which this Government will bring about in the life time of this Parliament to promote the economic development of Scotland and the prosperity of the Scottish people.
§ 4.3 p.m.
§ LORD CALVERLEY
My Lords, I believe that I am the first Member on the Back Benches of this House to speak upon the gracious Message which we received from the Throne, and I feel it a privilege to be able to express my high gratitude to the mover of the Address. I have read his speech and digested it, and I must say that it brought many fragrant memories back to me, owing to the fact that Lord Runciman of Doxford's distinguished father was my political godfather—though I am afraid that afterwards he thought I was a somewhat wayward godchild. The proposer and seconder attended the same school, and both went to Trinity College. Afterwards, one of them, Lord Rochdale, went into textiles and became the High Bailiff of the oldest Livery Company in London—the Weavers Company. I am not a member of that Company, but, still, I was taught weaving.
I was particularly interested in what Lord Runciman of Doxford had to say on shipping, because, of course, he is a 75 master of that subject. When we read—as we all did in our papers—about a speech made recently in Liverpool by some extremely foolish person, it deeply affected the minds of some of us. For my part, I wish that I could use unparliamentary language to express myself even more clearly. As we know, five ships full of passengers were held up. Some of those passengers had realised every penny piece of their savings and had disposed of their furniture and all their other goods in order to emigrate to Canada. When I heard what had happened I felt ashamed of this group of my fellow-countrymen, to think that they could so blindly follow this raucous, purblind, bell-wether—if I may so describe him—a person so lacking in any sense of responsibility. I felt ashamed that they should listen to the outpourings of such an irresponsible person, and thereby cause to be struck one of the shrewdest blows which could be struck at our prosperity.
I have a sufficiently long memory to recall how the late Mr. Asquith—as he then was—pointed out to this country over fifty years ago that it is only by earning more by what we now call "invisible exports"—and my noble and learned Leader this afternoon has mentioned that same subject—that we can hope to bridge in any realistic way the gap between our imports and exports. The British Merchant Navy is a great source of pride to the British Commonwealth. I have myself received from the United States of America ample evidence that if we are not careful we shall not have the same number of people coming from over there to this country as formerly have been in the habit of visiting us. We welcome them for their fried-ship, but we also have our eyes on the "almighty dollar." If these people get frightened—and I sometimes think that they get frightened more quickly than we do—it means that these irresponsible people of whom I have been speaking have put into jeopardy one of our greatest assets, the Merchant Navy, as an earning power. The question of insurance also arises in this connection, but I am not going to dwell upon that to-day. However, I feel this to be a matter of great importance. Stress was rightly laid upon it by the noble Viscount, Lord Runciman of Doxford, and I cannot forbear to 76 tender my personal thanks both to him and to the seconder of the Motion. Incidentally may I say that one of the best times I ever had was when I attended the "Magpie and Stump" at Trinity College, although I did not take part in the debate.
My noble and learned Leader has mentioned that we shall not in future have the benefit of the presence in this House of the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, as often as we should like. We always listen to his philosophical wit with great interest and profit, and we admire his self-control. I tried to make him lose his temper once but I could not do so. I should like to take this opportunity of congratulating Lord Rea on the great privilege which has been conferred upon him by the "faithful remnants" in making him the leader of a lost cause. I knew both Lord Rea's illustrious father and his grandfather, and if they know, as I sometimes think they may, I am sure that both will be glad that he occupies the corner seat as Leader of the Liberal Party in this House of Peers. The noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, mentioned, in a by-passing sort of way, the General Election. I cannot refrain from saying a word upon it, especially as I see the noble Viscount, Lord Woolton, sitting before me. By the way, I passed one of the noble Viscount's children in Leeds. Paradoxically, it was celebrating its 99th birthday.
§ LORD CALVERLEY
It is a child of the noble Viscount's creative faculty, not one in any realistic sense. I must congratulate, with a wry face, my noble friend, if he will allow me to call him so still, but I think with whimsical glee that the ghost of the last Jeremiah Mander would not congratulate him on the way this country has gone about the redistribution of constituencies. I do not know the names of the Boundary Commissioners, though they have to have souls, and legs to walk on, so I cannot be personal; but I would say that they have bedevilled some of our constituencies. They could not have done worse. I am certain that the late Mr. Jeremiah Mander, known as Jerrymander, would have laughed, wherever he may be. Seriously, I would put 77 before the noble Viscount the point that his own Party agents did not know the whole of their constituencies; they were so mixed up. I was told only yesterday by a candidate, now a Member of Parliament, that she had to tell her agent that a certain district was part of our constituency. I have been a ward secretary and I know that there is a traditional way of getting workers together locally. That is how the Parties get their canvassers, as the noble Viscount, Lord Woolton, knows. As the noble Viscount is going to be in office for at least twelve months, I hope he will not appoint another Boundary Commission. Let these people have a chance to settle down. My noble and learned friend Lord Jowitt mentioned cricket, which brings to mind a splendid leader which appeared in the Yorkshire Post after the Election, in which the editor praised the Prime Minister for his statesmanship and his high prescience. But the Prime Minister was captain of the team; he saw to it that he had a double-sided penny, won the toss and put us in on a sticky wicket. I think we did pretty well, considering we lost 1¼million tons of coal in Yorkshire through the foolishness of another unofficial strike.
I am glad that the Government are going to introduce a Bill to extend legal aid to county court cases as well as to High Court and Assize cases. I think that is a wise thing to do. I served on the Royal Commission on the Administration of Justice. I hope that the Government will agree that they should accept what, after all, was the recommendation of Lord Rushcliffe, that there should be at least one magistrate on the local committee, instead of allowing the poachers to say how they are going to spread out the spoils, because there is a danger that it has become a racket. I am glad to see that this Bill is being introduced.
I notice that the Government are to "have a go" at trying to reform our noble selves. I do not know how they are going to do it. They have a job on. They may do it by nomination—that is, the Front Bench will agree and will never take any notice of the Back Benchers— or in other ways. But I hope that a clause will be introduced giving the heir to a Peerage, not the right to abdicate all his privileges to those who might come 78 after him, but the right to stand as a candidate for the House of Commons and, if elected, to act as a commoner.
When I came to your Lordships' House ten years ago I had to pay my own railway fare. I asked the then Leader of the House, the late Lord Addison, to look into that matter. He saw the Chancellor of the Exchequer and a resolution was passed that noble Lords could have their railway fares if they came down here to do their duty and did not make it the excuse to go to a night club or any other diversion. I hope that the present Government will pass a resolution giving those of us who come here on Parliamentary work the same subsistence allowance that I received when a member of the Royal Commission on the Administration of Justice. I know that some members of the Government are sympathetic towards this proposal. There are noble Lords—"young'uns "—opposite who are farmers or are their own land agents, and we should he glad to see them here to give us their advice on farming and the land, because they know more about it than some of us who are getting on in years. I seriously ask the noble Viscount in charge of the Government Bench at the present time if he will bring this point to the notice of his noble colleagues: the need to give those who want it a subsistence allowance, so that in these hard times we are not worse off.
I wish again to express my personal hope that the Government will not cancel the emergency proclamation until they have hammered a little sense into those sections of the dockers and others who take unofficial action, so that the Government can have a free hand to do what they think is suitable. They can rest assured that the good sense of the nation will be behind them in any, not repressive measures, but positive measures to bring some spirit of sweet reasonableness into these people who are causing so much hardship at present. There are many other items in the gracious Speech, but I am not going to refer to them all. I close on this note. I would remind the Party opposite that, so far as foreign affairs are concerned, our policy in this country for a generation and more has, to my knowledge, been bipartisan. We should not like to make political capital out of what they do, and we expect them not to make political capital from our efforts to get a treaty in Austria: we honourably failed 79 there, and the late Ernest Bevin failed in some other ways. I can assure them that Her Majesty's Government possess the good will of us all, and if we, from the Front or Back Benches, can help to make this country even more prosperous, that will be our resolve and our aim.
§ 4.22 p.m.
§ LORD BEVERIDGE
My Lords, the gracious Speech which we are discussing to-day sets out a list of problems and proposals which are both extensive and extremely varied. I find that in considering a set of problems and proposals so varied it is helpful to make a simple distinction—namely, the distinction between the matters which are in the power of the Government and people of this country and those things which are not in their power. The gracious Speech naturally begins with the second class, of those things not in our power—problems of peace, disarmament, full employment and so on. It proceeds at the end to something which is clearly within our power—namely, the composition of the House of Lords. I find it convenient to make that distinction, and I propose to speak of only two things which are within the power of the Government and the people of this country to-day. I am more encouraged to leave out those things which are not within our power—the means of securing peace, full employment, and the economic prosperity of this country—because many of them have already been admirably dealt with from these Benches by my noble friend Lord Layton.
There are, perhaps, two borderline questions, of matters which are partly within our power and partly not within our power, on which I should like to say a few words. The first is the problem of nuclear energy. It seems to me that before we proceed, or while we proceed, with developing nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, and spreading all over the world the knowledge of nuclear energy and how to use it, we should try to discover where there are any means of preventing nuclear energy, and the knowledge of how to deal with nuclear problems, from being misused for non-peaceful purposes. I believe that that is one of the fundamental scientific practical questions with which the whole world is faced. That is all I want to say on that point.
80 I would say a word or two about the second borderline problem, that of inflation and preserving the value of our money. That matter, to some extent, is not within the power of anyone in this country; it depends on the actions of other countries. Moreover, under our present constitution, clearly it is not entirely within the power of the Government of this country, because there are powers on both sides of the wage bargain, independent of the Government of this country, whose actions may materially affect the value of our money: on the one hand there are the great trade unions, and on the other the monopolies. I feel that we are faced with the need for a serious investigation and consideration of the way in which, in all cases, the responsibilities which do and should go with power can be enforced morally on those who exercise this power, a power which affects the value of the money in the pockets of everyone today, both old and young.
Let me pass from those borderline problems to the two matters which are within the power of the Government—and they are the only two mentioned in the gracious Speech with which I am going to deal. The first is the question of road traffic. I am sure everybody will be delighted that the Government intend to press forward with their far-reaching programme of road construction and improvement, and with their plans to ease the flow of traffic and reduce danger on the roads. On that matter I will make only two comments. I hope that their plans, when they are presented, will provide adequately, not merely for increasing the total number of roads, but for some differentiation in their use, or in the use of some of them. To anyone who uses the roads it is clear that the variegated, undisciplined use of roads by large lorries, private cars, motor-cycles and cycles adds to the danger of the roads; and in so far as it is possible, by persuasion or compulsion, to segregate some of this traffic—if, for instance, the Government can multiply the facilities for the cyclist to have his own road—it will undoubtedly do something materially to diminish the danger on the roads. That is in favour of differentation in the use of roads. There is one matter in respect of which I should like to see greater similarity of treatment for all road users. I speak as one who lives on the Woodstock Road in Oxford and who hears the motor-cycles every 81 hour of the day and night. I cannot understand why there should not be the same requirement for the silencing of motorcycles as there is for cars.
§ LORD BEVERIDGE
Let the Government—it is within their power—find some means of getting that law for efficient silencing enforced upon all people alike. That is all I have to say about road traffic.
I come to the second topic which is within our power, aid that is the paragraph which follows soon after road traffic, dealing with house building. Here the gracious Speech says:While maintaining a high rate of house building, My Ministers will encourage action to secure the more rapid clearance of slums … and to relieve orb in congestion.I am sure we shall all be delighted that the Government are abandoning an aim which I think has been a little too prominent in the past with some Governments, including the immediate predecessors of the present Government, of multiplying houses and not realising that the problem of urban congestion cannot be dealt with simply in that way. Much more than more houses is needed to get rid of urban congestion. What is essentially needed is the proper planning of towns, the stopping of the endless growth of towns that are becoming too large to be reasonable habitations for anybody, and the development of smaller towns quite independent of them. That is part of the policy which was adopted, by general agreement, some years ago—the development of new towns in place of letting the old towns grow endlessly into more and more suburbs.
I hope that the Government will now give to the new town movement a fresh lease of vigorous life. That means much more than building houses. It means, of course, building all the other amenities and necessities which go with a town—the community centres, the town halls, the health centres, the shopping centres and all the rest. So long as the Government are concentrating simply upon making more and more houses, they will never be 82 able to make a new town to which people will wish to migrate. What has been hap-pelting round London is that, while we have been developing the new towns, we have not made certain that the factories which are moved out of London will not be started again in London and so add to the growth of the Capital. I hope that the Government will take a vigorous and friendly action in this movement of new towns, to bring about the growth of new towns rather than a general conurbation of towns that are already too large.
Let me mention one other matter which arises here: it is one upon which I have already spoken, and I hope that some action will ultimately follow—that is, the rescue of towns like Oxford where, owing to the rapid growth of population in new houses without town facilities, the amenities and the beauty of the historic city are being completely destroyed. Living there and seeing it every day, I become more convinced that the problem is not one of transport: it is one of making a new town centre. I know from what has been said by the present Minister of Housing and Local Government that he is sympathetic to the idea of saving the historic city of Oxford by making the new city of Cowley, as it could be made, a really fine city for modern people to live in, with all the facilities, with the best shopping centre in the world, instead of the worst possible shopping centre to which, by the attempt to use its old streets. Oxford is now condemned.
Now that the Election is happily over, and now that most Ministers are happily confirmed in the posts which they held before, I hope that, on this particular problem of house building, the clearance of congestion by the construction of new towns and by rescuing towns like Oxford which are being destroyed through lack of planning, Ministers will be encouraged to go ahead to do what I believe they want to do, and what it is within their power to do, just as I hope that the Ministers concerned with road traffic will make a bold and imaginative plan for dealing with road traffic as a whole. Let me assure the noble Lord who spoke last that, whether Liberalism is a lost cause or not, these two things that I have mentioned, the provision of roads worthy of this country and safe for the people of this country, and of towns in which the people can live properly, healthily and 83 happily, are not lost causes; and it rests with Her Majesty's Ministers to make certain that we get them.
§ 4.38 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT WOOLTON
My Lords, My first and obvious desire is to thank noble Lords who have already taken part in this debate for what the noble and learned Earl, the Leader of the Opposition, when he set the pace at the beginning, described so well as an attitude of complete sportsmanship. Your Lordships may have observed that we have somewhat altered the order of batting in the debate. That was because my noble Leader and I found that the speeches by noble Lords opposite on foreign affairs and Colonial matters were going to take place to-morrow. It was originally my noble Leader's intention to speak to-day, and I was going to reply to-morrow. I suggested that it would be to your Lordships' pleasure, and certainly to mine, that we should change the order, so that my noble friend, with his vast experience and expert knowledge of these problems of foreign and Imperial affairs, should be able to reply to that debate, and that I should endeavour to deal with the problems of home affairs.
May I say to the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, that I will not deal at all with the question of the composition of this House, but will leave it to my noble Leader to-morrow. The noble Lord, Lord Calverley, had some peculiar ideas about the age of my children, about which I was not very clear. He asked whether I would assure the Chancellor of the Exchequer of the importance of looking after the finances of people in this House, and I can assure him that I will do so. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Rea, would allow me to add my felicitations to him on his appointment as Leader of the Liberal Party. It is quite clear that the noble Lord, Lord Calverley, regarded it as a lost cause because he had lost it.
It seems to me that the much hoped-for relaxation in foreign tension may make home affairs in this country occupy, profitably, a great deal more of our attention in the future. The noble and learned Earl who leads the Opposition said that the somewhat comprehensive legislation foreshadowed in the gracious Speech is of comparative unimportance in relation 84 to the three main issues with which he dealt. I know, of course, that the climate of opinion on foreign affairs varies almost from month to month, often depending on quite unpredictable factors. I would make no other observation than to say that, if we are fortunate enough during these next few years to have less anxiety and concern about the defence of our country and that of our Allies and dependants, then I am sure that it will be a good thing that Her Majesty's Government should, in so far as they are competent to do it, in this period of relaxation of such tension devote their energies to steering this nation along the paths which can secure—as I believe it is possible to secure—abundance and plenty for the people of our land, so that they may enjoy a long period of prosperity.
But, if we are going to do this, let it be quite clear in our minds that a great deal of new thinking on the subject is needed, thinking unhampered by past political judgments or prejudices. There are always in front of our minds, I think, two aspects of the problem of home affairs. Governments during recent years have properly devoted much attention to the general conditions of the life of the people, to the prevention of poverty, and especially to the conditions of those people to whom misfortune has come and who, through advancing age or infirmity, find themselves unable to maintain themselves in independence. There was great need of Government action along these lines. Looking back as I can—I am constantly being reminded by the Press about it; I notice that the friendly Press refer to me as being seventy-one, while the not-so-friendly Press refer to me as "rising seventy-two"—looking back, as I say, over fifty years of adult life, I can now see that many of the dreams and hopes of social reform which actuated me and so many of your Lordships in our youth are most fortunately being fulfilled. We have a system of social service and security which I think entitles us to a certain pride of accomplishment and to leadership in the world in these matters. All the political Parties have played their part in attaining this state of affairs. I am not suggesting it is perfect. It is always the business of the Opposition in a Parliament to seek from others the perfections that they themselves have not been able to accomplish and realise when 85 they were in office. That is as it should be, a constant stimulation to greater effort.
When speaking of social reform, one would be churlish not to pay tribute to the noble Lord who has just spoken and who has played, over such a long period, so active a part in it. I was much impressed by what he has just said on the subject of building houses without making places for people to enjoy a full communal life. I can assure him that my right honourable friend will take notice of what he has said about the development of new towns.
When we leave the field of politics, it is surely true to say that there is no division of motive or intention among the people of this country in their desire to secure a high standard of health and well-being and all the sorts of provisions that are proper in a Christian country for those people on whom misfortune has fallen. But, in the ultimate, the capacity to do these things depends upon the capacity of the nation as a whole to produce national wealth on which, in the long run, all security is inevitably dependent. The wise speech (people will not think I am patronising in so describing it) of the noble and learned Earl today has emphasised this necessity of using the whole of the available forces of the nation, both human and material, for the highest productive capacity of the nation. We cannot impress too strongly on the people of this country that primarily we are a trading community. There are many people who would have some doubts, I believe, about that, and who would say that they have never been engaged in trade and that they have never had anything to do with industry. It is important, however, that we should all realise that, in the end, our culture and many of the pleasures of our lives, our schools, our colleges of learning, our writers and our artists—all these admirable things in life can, in fact, flourish only when they are nurtured with the finance and encouragement which come as one of the secondary factors in the production of wealth in a nation. All the best hopes of the Government depend on our ability to produce such conditions in this country as will assure abundance for the people.
If I may respectfully say so, I thought it showed profound wisdom at this time 86 in our history when the Leader of the House took the quite unusual step of choosing two men of wide experience in industry to move and second the humble Address. The reception which those speeches have received from your Lord ships ought to be a matter not only of congratulation to those two noble Lords but of great encouragement to the considerable number of men who, having rendered great national service and achieved distinction in fields of industry, have received that recognition from the Crown that enables them, if they will, to come to your Lordships' House.
In these present times, when the problems of industry are of so much concern to the nation, I am sure we should welcome a more frequent attendance from these industrial Peers and their guidance on these matters in which they have such vast experience. If I may say so, I was one (I would not say one of distinction) of the industrial Peers when I joined your Lordships sixteen years ago, and, if I may speak to the others, and perhaps particularly, as the parsons do in church, to those who do not come, I would assure there that it is one of the pleasant features of this House that experience and common sense carry much greater weight than oratory.
At the present time I believe that we have reason for some thankfulness and satisfaction about our commercial position. Until the present strike, about which I do not propose to make any comments this evening, interfered with it, our production was running at about 3 per cent. above 1954. We need a 3 per cent. annual increase in order that we may achieve what we want. As the noble and learned Earl has pointed out, our balance of payments had been disturbed. It had been disturbed, of course, by our increase in consumption—Oy the fact that we were eating more, and also by a rise in world prices. This deterioration began to affect the movement of reserves, which had been showing a steady, if not spectacular, rise, and in February they fell in fact by £29 million. I agree with the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, that this is a vital matter in the economy of the country. But we have more than one "club," even though one might think that we were not so expert at using it as was the noble and learned Earl's golfing friend. We have import regulations; we have the 87 capacity for encouraging home production, and of course we have the "club" to which the noble and learned Earl was probably referring—the restriction of credit.
§ VISCOUNT WOOLTON
It was not quite so rusty as when the noble Lord's Party used it. The Government found it necessary to use this "club." We acted promptly and decisively. I need not remind the House in detail of the measures taken by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on February 24, but I should properly draw your Lordships' attention to the fact that the steps then taken, while they must inevitably be gradual in their effect, have helped to maintain our reserves virtually unchanged since last February; and they are still being effective. There was a welcome fall in our April imports from the very high level of March. The trade figures announced a day or two ago show that in May they have fallen still further—in fact, the trade deficit for May is only £33 million, compared with £65 million in April, and with £42 million a year ago, while our present reserves stand at £959 million.
I do not disguise from myself the fact that we should welcome their being larger, but it is not a state of affairs which need cause anybody concern. It looks as though the action taken in February is now having some effect, though it would be premature and, indeed, imprudent to assume, on the strength of only two months' showing, that our difficulties are behind us. Unhappily, there can be no doubt that the present dissensions on the railways, and in the docks, and, as one of your Lordships pointed out, in the ships, will affect our whole economy and accentuate the problems that we have to face. The bills for these strikes will not come in next week; they will be coming in for quite a number of months afterwards.
But present troubles apart, we think we can look with some satisfaction and pride at the contribution that our exports have made to our trade figures. In May, exports were as much as 9 per cent. above the corresponding figures for the same month of 1954. an achievement that I think is remarkable, since it is almost entirely due to an increase in the volume of sales and has not been helped by any 88 rise in prices. We owe a great deal, and we should pay tribute, to the energy, the initiative and the drive of our exporting industries for producing such results in face of increasingly intense competition in the markets of the world. But it is not only to the problem of exports that we must look when we are considering our balance of payments: there is also the problem of home agriculture. We in this country are importing vast quantities of feeding-stuffs which can be grown here. I certainly share in the views that Lord Jowitt has put before the House and which he and I have previously discussed, about the importance of developing to the maximum the land that we have at our disposal. I hope that I am not going beyond my brief, so to speak, when I say that I do not think that we ought to allow old conditions to interfere with modern needs.
I should like to add a word about tourism. I have just had some figures sent to me from the Box. The noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, has played an important part as President of the British Holiday and Travel Association, which has done a wonderful job. I gather that 900,000 people came into this country last year, including 275,000 from the United States and Canada, and they brought the amount of foreign currency to which the noble and learned Earl referred. This is a great industry, and one, strange to say, which in the days gone by we never considered as being of very great importance. I used to think that these people came to see how badly we were bombed and what we looked like. Now I think they come because they like us, which is very gratifying.
The noble and learned Earl asked me a rather difficult question about potash. I am in a little difficulty in answering him. If I may be quite frank with the House, the difficulty is this. The potash is in this country—I think 1 use the words "in this country" correctly, because when those concerned got down 4,500 feet they discovered that the potash was still further below that level; but the geologists are quite clear that it is there, and in very large quantities. The question then arises whether we can develop it economically. I am told that it would take from eight to ten years to develop mines to full production. The prospect is, therefore, I one of long range. Two firms have been 89 dealing with the problem. One of them has already spent £400,000 on development work of a pioneer plant nature, but has now decided that it cannot go on with the work: it does not happen to be in their "line of country." Another firm is at present engaged in prospecting in the matter, and I think the noble and learned Earl will realise that I do not want to say anything that might discourage them. All I can say is that I am assured that potash in very large quantities does lie under this Yorkshire land, in the neighbourhood of Aislaby on the Yorkshire moors, which I know very well, but it seems to he a little low down.
§ EARL JOWITT
I quite understand. I hope that if it is necessary in the public interest to develop this potash by means of a public corporation, as we have for atomic energy, Her Majesty's Government will not shrink from that course just because somebody will point the finger of scorn at them and say, "Nationalisation"; because that is a typical instance in which, if necessary, we ought to nationalise and spend public money in developing a great national asset.
§ VISCOUNT WOOLTON
I am much obliged to the noble Earl. He will not expect me to say anything more on that subject now, because we shall have to wait for further developments. May I go back to the theme that I was rather anxious to put before your Lordships? It is very rarely that I am anxious to make a speech in your Lordships' House, but I told the noble Marquess the Leader of the House that I should like to have a little time to develop some views of mine on our economic position: and they are pertinent to the gracious Speech which we are discussing. I should like to emphasise, as I think we must, the fact that we are a nation of traders, and that we depend for our prosperity and for our whole life on trade. For very much of we are dependent upon the extraordinary position that, with our genius for trade, we in this country have been able to develop as international traders. There, competition is ever acute. It is most important that the country should realise that we can easily be priced out of overseas markets. There is a danger arising from our present prosperity that may lead us to lose markets, for people who want goods do not want merely to place orders for goods; they want delivery of goods, they want definite 90 dates, often they want early dates for delivery. We can be tinted out of markets as well as priced out of them.
The noble and learned Earl spoke of unemployment. He and I, when I had the privilege of being associated with him in the Coalition Government, were jointly responsible, with other Members of all Parties, for the production of the White Paper on Employment Policy, which outlined the condition which has come to be called full employment. Full employment must inevitably be the proper aim of all Governments. We have it now, but let us he mindful that full employment may make one blind to the dangers that may arise from one cause or another. It is at a time of full employment that people may lose the future through not taking thought for the future. When there is no cloud on the horizon, that is the time when people may lose orders. We are now in a state of prosperity, but I wonder whether we realise that we have yet to learn how to live with prosperity and to cherish it. It is a very hard thing to do. Always "much" would have "more"; but it is not a problem of which we in this country have long experience. It is a new state of affairs in which we are living, one demanding much wisdom and restraint. We have all been through the other sort of period. We are very good at that. It is a characteristic of our race that in disaster we are wonderful. Our capacity for endurance with our backs to the wall has earned us a great reputation. But let us remember that a crisis is a sign of failure or incompetence somewhere. That incompetence may arise from failure to realise the very brittle nature of prosperity. The problem that we have to study is how we are going to pursue success, how to avoid industrial crises, from whatever cause, that are damaging our prospects and may, indeed, so easily pass the cup of prosperity to the ever-waiting hands of other nations and foreign competitors.
One of the interesting things is the change that has taken place in the administration of our industrial society. For the most part, shareholders are not consulted on the conditions that lead to disputes. Often the individual operatives have themselves failed to take part in their union affairs. So a new managerial class has arisen on both sides of industry, and it is largely on their wisdom, their insight and their toleration of one another 91 that our prosperity depends. These new managers, in the trade union world, on the one hand, and in the industrial world, on the other, are the giants of the day.It is excellentTo have a giant's strength; but it is tyrannousTo use it as a giant,and perhaps society may have to devise some ways for securing that such strength is not used for the destruction of our hopes of prosperity.
Rightly used, the power of industrial management on both sides is the basis of our hope for continuous motion along the road to prosperity; but, with the noble Lord, I do not believe that that prosperity comes just from the use of muscle or bone. This world of high prosperity is the child of scientific invention, of the harnessing of the people's needs to the forces that, fifty years ago, were beyond the horizons of knowledge. There is no reason why, with the inventive capacity of this country, we should not continue to increase our standard of living. We have this capacity to cater for the needs of the world, and our scientists, craftsmen and industrialists are capable of meeting the competition of any nation if they have the will to do it. We shall not do it by making speeches about it; we shall do it only by taking very practical steps. As an American friend of mine says, the solution is in horsepower, by which, of course, is meant electric power. In a few years' time it will mean nuclear power, producing the electric power which in turn will produce the human power.
I am much concerned about the competition of industry for our scientists. As some of your Lordships may know, I have some connection with university work, and I find that people taking courses in science are being, so to speak. "booked up" by industrialists. The other day I found that a "lab. boy" ("boy" being a term of art, for he was about thirty-two or thirty-three) had just left because he had been offered £1,000 a year by one of the local firms—much more than the teachers are paid, of course, which is an interesting thought. I am very concerned lest competition from industry should deprive the schools of the teachers, because it is only through the teachers of science that we 92 shall get the inspiration and the knowledge that will enable us to have the scientists of the future. It will be very short-sighted of the industrialists if they fail to recognise the importance of securing that our supply of teachers remains. I am sure that this House in a debate of this nature must greatly regret the absence of the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel. No man, in my experience of this House, has done more than he has to draw the attention of both the public and the House to the overwhelming importance of the development of science to industry.
One other thing. I hope I am not keeping your Lordships unduly, but I must speak of this, because the noble and learned Earl asked me to do so. I refer to the problem of inflation. I do not disguise for a moment that it is a very difficult subject with which to deal. The noble Earl asked: How can you have full employment, with the high wages that necessarily come with full employment, the general prosperity that comes with full employment, and still avoid inflation? It is not a platitude to say that, while there may be many curbs to inflation, there is, in fact, only one cure, and that cure is harnessing more and more of our natural resources to ensure that we can obtain increased production. That, in the end, is the only sure way of preventing inflation and the destruction of our present prosperity. My Lords, I have kept you a long time, but I felt I wanted to say some of the things which I have said because I have so much hope for the future if only we, as a country, can realise the economic wisdom of working together to the common end. And that is not an issue that divides us politically. I am grateful to your Lordships for your attention.
§ 5.12 p.m.
My Lords, there is sufficient material in the gracious Speech to enable everyone to speak on at least one subject. I suppose that in some cases our attitude towards a particular subject depends upon our political complexion. It is quite clear, as the result of recent events, that the doctrines of Socialism are not in the ascendant—as a friend of mine said: "The kingdom of Bevan is not Nye." Instead of wandering over the whole field of the gracious Speech, let me concentrate on one or two matters 93 which are mentioned there. I see a reference toa measure to amend the law relating to valuation and rating in England and Wales.I speak subject to correction, but I believe that I am right in saying that the measure is a comparatively minor Bill dealing with subjects more or less of a procedural nature. It is to me a matter of great sorrow that there is no reference to the necessity for reviewing the whole subject of de-rating.
It is within the knowledge of us all that in 1929 the Government of the day introduced legislation as a result of which industrial hereditaments were relieved of 75 per cent. of the rates while agricultural land was relieved altogether from rating. The loss in rateable value to the country as a result of that legislation has been enormous. To make matters worse, in the last twenty years the amount of money that has to be raised by local authorities every year has doubled, and in some cases trebled. This state of affairs is likely to increase, rather than decrease, on account, principally, of the demands of education. No amount of adjustment of assessments can alleviate the situation. I think your Lordships will agree with me that every time a new Bill dealing with valuation and rating is introduced it pleases some people and causes great annoyance to others. In my respectful submission, it is time that the whole subject of de-rating was reviewed by the Government. Speaking entirely for myself, and not on behalf of any political Party whatsoever, I suggest that industrial hereditaments should be relieved only to the extent of 50 per cent. of the rates payable by them, while agricultural land, which at present is entirely exempt from rating, should be relieved to the extent of 75 per cent. That is purely a suggestion of my own. I think that the matter is important because the burden of local rates has increased, and is likely to go on increasing, and may indeed in the future become a very severe burden. I hope, therefore, that in the course of the next few years (I do not know how long the present Government may last, and therefore I say advisedly: "in the course of the next few years") the Government will take it upon themselves to review the whole subject of de-rating.
Among other points which I note with great satisfaction is a reference to the intention to do everything possible 94to secure the more rapid clearance of slums in both town and country and to relieve urban congestion.I think we all wholeheartedly agree with that proposition. At the same time, submit that we must keep in mind that compensation, reasonable but not excessive, should be paid to all those people who are deprived of their properties. The site basis value of compensation, though perfectly logical, undoubtedly causes hardship in many cases, and I hope that; the Government will consider that matter, among many others. There is one other matter to which I would refer in regard to compensation. It arises under the Housing Act of 1936, and concerns the discretionary power of an acquiring authority to pay to any person whose property is compulsorily acquired such allowance towards the cost of removal and disturbance of trade as they think reasonable. The word in the Statute is "may" I say without any hesitation that sometimes when one sees the word "may" in a Statute it is an instrument of injustice; the word here should be "shall" And the sooner the word "shall" is substituted for the word "may," in this connection, the nearer we shall be to justice in these matters.
Then I see a reference in the gracious Speech to "practice and procedure in relation to administrative tribunals." I do not know under what category rent tribunals conic, but I hope that before my biological system is put into a little box and taken along to Golders Green there will be an appeal on fact, as well as on law, from the decisions of these rent tribunals. If I say that again, I am sure I shall be certified and taken away. I have already said it, I think, about fifteen times, but no-one has, ever paid the slightest attention.
I observe with satisfaction that legal aid is to be extended to the county courts. I have no doubt that this is partly, though not entirely, consequential upon the proposed enlargement of the jurisdiction of the county courts. I think it was the late Lord Darling who once said that justice was open to everyone, like the Ritz Hotel. I am afraid that that is true. So far as the civil side of litigation is concerned, the blunt fact is that the costs to the layman of being associated with the law are so great that they are absolutely inconsistent with the proposition that justice is open to all. I am not a Socialist, 95 and I am never likely to become a Socialist, but I agree with what the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, said —namely, that it is wrong to say that everything must be nationalised and equally wrong to say that nothing must be nationalised. If the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor were here, I have no doubt that he would be angry with me, but I feel that either the present Government or some other Government will have to consider very seriously whether or not certain aspects of the law should not be incorporated in a public service, in the same way as has happened in the case of medicine.
These are a few points, which may or may not please anyone. Nevertheless, I felt bound to say something which I hope has been of a constructive nature. Apart from these observations. I think that the gracious Speech is an excellent document and that no doubt your Lordships will support it in full.
§ 5.22 p.m.
§ LORD WOLVERTON
My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to take part in the debate on the gracious Speech delivered last week to both Houses of Parliament. I should like to congratulate my noble friends, Lord Runciman of Doxford and Lord Rochdale, on two excellent speeches. I have listened to many, and I have rarely listened to better speeches.
I should first like to draw attention to the important announcement about "the development of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes" in this country. Of course, this will take a long time: the estimates are of anything between ten and twenty years. I think that it is more likely to be twenty years before we see the full effect of the plans to increase our power supplies. When the hydro-electric schemes in Scotland are fully developed—and they are getting towards that now, although there is still some work to be done—they will supply only about half of the power needed in Scotland, so that for the next ten or fifteen years we must go back again to coal. It is very disturbing to all of us to see that, for the first time, we have become a net importer of coal. It is said that to keep this country going this year we may have to import anything up to 12 million tons of coal, at a cost of £84 million. It is disappointing that 96 during the last three years the production of coal has not gone up.
We have been told to-day by the noble Viscount, Lord Woolton, that industrial production has gone up by 3 per cent. in each of the last two years. I hope that it will go up at a higher rate, because it must do so if we are going to get greater prosperity in this country. We should remember that the United States of America has in her factories something like 2½ times the amount of power per man that we have in this country. To get greater productivity, which we must have to curb inflation, we must have more coal. We have to get this somehow or other. It has been disappointing to see that the money poured into the industry to mechanise it has not increased output at all in the last three years. But now that the useful suggestions made by the Committee which recently investigated the coal industry are being put into operation, I hope that we shall see in the next few years a great increase in the production of coal. That will help to relieve the balance of payments problem, which is a serious one. Such a sum as £84 million could more usefully be spent on materials which we do not produce in this country.
I should also like to refer to the point in the gracious Speech which says that the Government will do all they can further to curb public expenditure. While a good start was made by the late Government in reducing taxation somewhat, we are still, as we all know, the most highly taxed nation in the world. If we are to get the greater prosperity which we need, we shall have to invest a great deal more money in industry and agriculture; and that can be done only by the further savings of the people. The Government must set a good example by curbing public expenditure, and I am glad that they have said they will try to do so. I am one of those who feel that much more can be done. We have only made a start, in a limited field. During the General Election, I went round speaking, in the North West and in East Anglia, and a number of questions were put to me on the point of whether taxation could not be cut down further.
I would next say a word about the important road development plans. In the last few weeks we have seen that our 97 roads are absolutely vital; and, according to modern standards, they are completely out of date. We have had so many things to do for the defence of the country that we have not been able to spare the money, but I hope that as a result of the much better relations abroad, and the probably better things to come, if the proposed Four Power talks are successful, as we all hope and pray they will be, we shall have a little more money to spend in the next few years on such things as roads. It is not only a question of trunk roads, which we all know are inadequate and very bad; it is also a question of rural roads. Recently I was elected a member of the West Suffolk County Council, and I have been put on the roads and bridges committee. We have something like 1,000 miles of roads, over 500 miles of which are unclassified roads. While the county council are doing their best to keep up these unclassified roads, out of the rates, they also have some 500 miles of classified roads. In my opinion the amount we receive from the Government is quite inadequate to keep up these roads properly, and I hope that in the years to come we shall have a bigger allocation of money, both for new road construction and for road maintenance.
May I add a few words about the Government's house-building programme and the clearance of slums? The late Government's record for house building over the last three and a half years was remarkable, but the task is still only half completed. In addition to the arrears of new house building, there is still this vital problem of slum clearance. I hope that we shall make a great effort in the next two or three years to get rid of these temporary huts. Many people are still living in these war-time huts. I know that the late Government issued a directive to all local authorities to try to get rid of them within, I think, two years; but many of them still remain. I feel that a drive should be made to do away with these temporary war-time huts. As to the slum clearance programme, in my view the success of those efforts will come; about only by giving a higher subsidy to local authorities and so giving them an impetus to clear their slums. If they can be given a higher subsidy, I believe the programme will be successful; and I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, who is to follow me, and knows so much 98 more about these things than I do, will agree with me.
I should now like to say a word or two about important legislation passed in the time of the last Government—namely,. the Housing Repairs and Rents Act—"Operation Rescue." Some of us on these Benches were somewhat critical last summer, and said that while we welcomed the legislation proposed we did not think it went far enough and that it would not do the job. That Act has now been in force nearly a year, and whilst it is doing the job on the improvement side, and there are welcome signs that advantage has been taken of improvement grants, I. do not think it is working at all satisfactorily on the repairs side. I should like to see some alteration made in the Act in the next few years to make it work better, because otherwise all our efforts to get rid of these slums will only create; further slums. I feel that a year is sufficient time in which to judge whether an Act is working as well as it should be.
In conclusion, I welcome the reference in the gracious Speech to the school programme. I am glad not only that the Government are to give special attention to technical education—because it is so vital in an ever-competing world, where we must he in the forefront—to get more technicians trained, but that they are to try to do more for rural schools. A great deal has been done in building big primary schools in the towns, and secondary schools to which the children go from the age of eleven; but rural schools need more attention. A start has been made, but in many cases buildings are out of date, and they lack sufficient teachers. It may be necessary to attract teachers into the rural areas by giving them more money than teachers receive in towns. That idea may not be popular, but the towns are always a lure to the young teachers. We must have good teachers in the rural areas. That is a problem to-day. With those few remarks, I should like to congratulate the Government on producing on the home front, at any rate, an encouraging gracious Speech, and I support it.
§ 5.34 p.m.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, an occasion such as this is of twofold value to this House and to the country. In the first place, it enables us to see what is the programme of the Government for the 99 next Parliamentary Session, and to form some judgment of the amount of work which will be laid before us. The gracious Speech does not give us a very clear picture. Indeed, looking through the various items set out, it is not a particularly exciting document. It has been described by the Economist, a periodical which is normally sympathetic to the Government, as "an unappetising diet" and as "a large and rather stodgy programme of legislation." I must say that if the Economist is able to judge of the programme from the headings set out in the gracious Speech, it is much wiser than I am. I have no particular complaint about the headings: everything depends, of course, upon how the headings are interpreted and carried into effect. Moreover, we have all experienced in our time that some of the most effective things we take, particularly medicines, are not very attractive and could be described as "stodgy." I am coming to the rescue of the Government against the Economist which has described this gracious Speech as rather large and stodgy. Everything will depend upon the way in which these various headings are carried into effect; and of that, so far, we have no particular information, and it would be unreasonable to expect that we should have. This is merely a sort of menu, but we all know that the menu is no indication of what we are going to get when we have placed our orders.
Another advantage of an occasion such as this, and possibly an even greater one, is that it enables every Member of your Lordships' House to come forward and ventilate any idea he may have, whether it is contained in the gracious Speech or not, whether it is relevant or not, whether it is practical or not; and advantage has been taken of this by a number of noble Lords, greatly to the profit of this House. We have had a number of memorable speeches to-day, and I should like to mention, among others, the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Woolton, who gave us the benefit of his great wisdom on these matters, and tried hard not to be controversial—and I think he largely succeeded. Then there was the speech of my noble and learned Leader, Lord Jowitt, who did the same; and we had a fine speech from the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge.
100 It is no part of my business to-day to go through this long agenda. Many of the topics have been dealt with already in the course of the various speeches, and as to others, all I could usefully do would be to ask for information as to what is the intention of the Government on certain items where their intention is not particularly clear. I do not suppose for a moment that the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, who is going to reply to-morrow, would be able to give me that information, and I do not propose to ask for it. However, I should like to comment on one or two items in the gracious Speech, and the first is the matter of agriculture. I want to follow the tone of this debate which has been set by many previous speakers, and not be unduly controversial.
However, it seems to me that the paragraph in the gracious Speech on agriculture is rather complacent. Her Majesty's Government have just come through an Election. They may congratulate themselves on having been successful, but I would say that all that has really happened is that they have been less unsuccessful than the other Parties. Be that as it may, I do not think they found in their journeys round the country that their agricultural policy was entirely popular; and if they talk to farmers, as I do quite a lot, I am sure they will find that farmers are not wholly satisfied with the present state of affairs. If one wanted to be facetious one could say they never are. But it is a fact that many farmers, particularly the small ones, are having a pretty hard time, and I do not think that a mere continuation of the existing medicine is good enough. I think something more is needed.
The noble Viscount, Lord Woolton, talked about the desirability of growing our own foodstuffs, and I absolutely agree with him. The present occasion of the dock strike drives the lesson home. In the near future we may become very short of feeding-stuffs, and what would happen then I do not know: we might very well be in a state of crisis in connection with our livestock. It is important that the farmer should be encouraged to grow his own feeding-stuffs so far as possible. Though this is not the occasion to go into detail on the agricultural policy, I would beg Her Majesty's Government not to imagine that all is well with agriculture 101 and that all they need to do is to carry on their existing policy. They really will have to do more.
I naturally welcome the next paragraph in the gracious Speech which says that legislation will be introduced to safeguard the health and provide for the safety and welfare of those employed in agriculture and forestry. Of course, that is all to the good, although I do not know exactly what Her Majesty's Government have in mind.. However, we shall see. But I do ask them to bear in mind that if they are going to do anything really worth while for the agricultural worker, it is going to cost the farmer more. It will be putting an additional burden on him, and it will be something that will have to be taken into consideration when we come to review prices. I just ask Her Majesty's Government to remember that.
I find it pleasing to hear that Her Majesty's Government are considering the question of the reorganisation of local government. This is a most intractable problem which every Government is aware of but few find themselves able to deal with. Local government is very much in the shape that it was eighty or ninety years ago. Very few changes have taken place. I find I am wrong in my arithmetic: at any rate since the 'eighties very little has happened to local government. Dissatisfaction has been constantly expressed. Ever since I have been in political life I have heard dissatisfaction about the organisation of local government. I have heard it particularly in connection with the government of London, because that is a pure anachronism. It was started at a time when the area of the London County Council roughly corresponded with the built-up area of London; but to-day the built up area of London comprises 144 separate local authorities. That is just government gone mad. The time is really ripe. On the other hand, there are certain authorities in various parts of the country who really have not the means 10 carry out the duties that are imposed upon them. Rural districts where a penny rate produces £100 are expected to carry out housing programmes, to have efficient local government officers to advise them, and so on. It is just impossible, and the result is that the work is not being done.
If Her Majesty's Government have a solution for this state of affairs I shall 102 be the first to congratulate them. What I ask them to do is not to tinker with the problem. Far better leave it alone until you are in a position to deal with it properly than try to arrive at a solution which is going to be satisfactory to the county council, to the county boroughs, to district councils and to everybody else who is concerned with local government. Anyone who has made the slightest study of local government will realise that there is an old conflict of interests between the different types of local authority, and that it is quite impossible to please them all. The only way to arrive at a solution is to cut across these differences and try to devise a solution which will not be a compromise solution, but will be the right method of administering local affairs having regard to present-day conditions. It will require a great deal of courage. I believe the present Minister of Housing and Local Government has the courage and, if I may say so, the obstinacy to deal with the matter. I hope he will not be misled into thinking that he must arrive at a solution which will please everybody, because the result will be that he would far better have left it alone until such time as some Government is prepared to face up to it. There is one other thing which I should like to say in connection with the reorganisation of local government, and that is that as a politician I would advise Her Majesty's Government to deal with it early. It is no good trying to deal with local government in the third or fourth year of the life of a Government. Do it in the first year, and you will get away with a courageous solution.
I was rather interested in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Meston, who is advocating the revision of derating. I had intended to say a word about it myself. I think the time has come for reconsidering the question of the derating of industrial premises and agricultural premises as well, though I think the case: in regard to industrial premises is infinitely stronger. I have no particular quarrel with the policy which was: adopted in 1929 of derating industrial premises. At that time, I think it was a sound thing to do, having regard to industrial condidons. But to-day, when industry is prosperous, and when the amount of the rate is so small a matter in proportion to the figures with which 103 industry is dealing, it seems an anomaly to continue it. If the case was to build up industry and make it prosper, it has succeeded, but you do not go on administering medicine long after the patient has recovered. You may get secondary effects if you do that, and we are in danger of getting those effects through the difficulties with which local authorities are faced in having to forgo the valuable rates which they could get from successful industry. I hope the Government will go into this question of derating. I do not think it is any the worse because the Labour Party had it in its Election Manifesto. I think even noble Lords opposite will admit that we had some good things in it, and this was probably one of them.
Now that the noble Viscount, Lord Woolton, is back, I should like to tell him that I congratulated him, quite sincerely, on his speech, if he will not mind my impertinence in doing so. I think the whole House was deeply indebted to him and greatly impressed with what he said.
§ LORD SILK1N
I was impressed with the fact that he is really concerned with the need for clear and fresh thinking. I know my own Party has become convinced of that need and we shall probably indulge in a good deal of it in the next few months. I think that the present Government are in need of it, too. This Election has taught us that no programme of any Party has aroused any particular enthusiasm, and what is needed in the country is the revival of a spirit of enthusiasm. We have to get it, and we can only get it by fresh thinking. After all, we are on the threshold of a new era, the new atomic era, which I think will be even more far-reaching than the Industrial Revolution.
I had some figures given to me some weeks ago showing that ten tons of uranium will, so far as the generation of electricity is concerned, do the work that at present is done by 300,000 or 400,000 tons of coal. If those figures are even approximately correct, and even if I have made a mistake in a nought somewhere—I do not think I have, but the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, will correct me if I am wrong—imagination boggles at what are the possibilities in the next 104 ten or twenty years. There is a need for clear thinking. One of the things about which we have to think is this: that we must not have a repetition of the effects on the country of the Industrial Revolution. This time we are going to get a revolution, but the whole country must benefit by it; it must not have the effect of creating the conditions which we see still in existence all over the country, the after-effects of the Industrial Revolution. If it is true that wealth can be produced at the rate at which we believe it can be produced, let us all share in it, and we shall indeed be a happy country.
I agree wholeheartedly with what the noble Viscount said about the importance of scientific research and the scientific approach to industry and, generally, to life. After all, the scientific approach even to politics is that you weigh up things and get your evidence and then come to a decision, rather than come to it by emotion. Nevertheless, I was glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, hint that there are other things in life besides scientific progress. Even scientific progress is only a means to an end; and the end is gracious and happy living. I was glad that he brought the House to a sense of the realities of life—the beauties of Oxford and ways of preserving them; the evils of conurbation; decent housing and so on. The two things must go together. It is useless and futile merely to increase our scientific knowledge and our scientific achievement without ensuring at the same time that all people benefit and that we bring about a happier, more beautiful and more gracious land. Arising out of that, I should have liked to say something about the Queen's Hall, but I suppose that mention of that would on this occasion be a little far-fetched. I feel there is a need for more concert halls. I do not want to say more than that at this stage, but I should like to give Her Majesty's Government notice that at some time I shall raise the question of the recent report on the rebuilding of the Queen's Hall.
The noble Lord, Lord Wolverton, touched on housing and the need for slum clearance. It is, of course, far too big a subject, as is the subject of education, to be dealt with cursorily in a debate of this kind. I have therefore taken the liberty of putting down two Motions, one on housing and one on education, which will be debated in the House in the course of 105 the next week or two, when it will be possible to develop the points which have been made—with which I very much agree—by the noble Lord, Lord Wolverton. I hope that he will give me permission to quote some of the things he has said, because I wholly agree with his comments on the Housing Repairs and Rents Act which was passed last Session, and also on slum clearance; but I do not think it would be profitable to develop that subject in this debate to-day.
I want to conclude by referring to the paragraph in the gracious Speech, which says that:Further consideration will be given to the question of the composition of the House of Lords.I am not going to anticipate the manner in which Her Majesty's Government will deal with this subject, for I do not know. Indeed, apparently, they themselves do not know, because they are still in the stage of giving "further consideration" to the matter. I should like to follow up what my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition said in his introductory speech. He referred to the difficulties which the noble Lords on this side of the House have in carrying on Her Majesty's Opposition. I think it will be agreed that an Opposition is an essential feature of our democratic method of government in this country. It is not sufficient, however, to pay lip service to the need for an Opposition: an Opposition is of value only if it is able to make a real contribution to the ideas in the Chamber and if that contribution is listened to.
Here, I want to come back to a complaint which I have had to make on one or two occasions in the past. We on this side of the House are a small group of noble Lords who try to do cur duty, as members of an Opposition: to scrutinise legislation carefully; to put up Amendments, where we think them necessary, but in no Party or fractious spirit. We try to bring forward ideas when a policy is being discussed —for instance, when dealing with a White Paper published before legislation is introduced. In that respect your Lordships' House is an excellent medium for discussion of the subject under consideration. The value of these discussions must depend on the amount of notice that is taken of the valid points raised by the Opposition. I have had a feeling that on many occasions insufficient notice has been taken of 106 perfectly good points that have been raised from this side of the House.
I do not wish to overstate the case, because there have been occasions when we have been completely satisfied that full consideration has been given to the points we made—for instance, on the occasion of the Television Bill. We were perfectly satisfied with the manner in which the noble Earl, Lord De La Ware, handled it, although he did not give us any of the really vital Amendments that we put forward. We knew, however, that those Amendments went to the root of the matter and that the Government had to hold firm. But we felt that our points had received consideration and, where possible, had been met. I suppose that on other occasions where the Minister concerned was a Member of this House it has been possible for us to be satisfied; but the difficulty has arisen when the noble Lord in charge of the Bill in this House is not the Minister concerned. I understand, of course, that he has to go back to his Minister, and that possibly the Minister directly concerned has not sensed the atmosphere, which sometimes makes all the difference between reacting a speech and hearing it spoken. At any rate, we have frequently gone away dissatisfied, not merely because our case has not been met—as an Op-position one expects that—but because we have felt that our case has not been adequately considered and answered.
I should like to give the House one example only, but there are many which will spring to the recollection of the noble Marquess the Leader of the House, if he is interested in this point. One of the last Bills to be discussed in this House in the last Parliament was a Bill dealing with the derequisitioning of houses. I must go back a little into history. The Bill provided that at the end of five years all requisitioning should come to an end. It was pointed out in another place that that might create difficulties for certain local housing authorities; that it may be that at the end of five years a limited number of those authorities will not have available the accommodation necessary to re-house the people displaced from the derequisitioned houses.
It was pointed out that it would be a good idea to give the Minister authority to extend the period for two years, where he was satisfied that it was necessary. 107 That was not a very far-reaching or difficult Amendment for the Government to accept—it was, in fact, put down by a supporter of the Government in the other place. The Minister concerned was in sympathy with it; he was prepared to meet it on the Report stage, but only if the Opposition gave an undertaking that they would not vote against the Third Reading. Really, that was a wholly improper undertaking to seek. The Opposition were objecting to much more than this particular provision; they were objecting to the principle of the Bill. At any rate, one cannot make conditions of that kind, and so the Minister concerned did not agree to the Amendment.
I thought that tempers might have cooled by the time the Bill came to this House and I put down a similar Amendment to which really there was no answer, and which ought to have been met. If this House, indeed if this Opposition, is of any value, that Amendment ought to have been accepted. But it was not; it was rejected on technical and on every other ground. The technical ground, of course, had no validity, because the Minister himself had been prepared to put down the Amendment if only he had received an undertaking that my colleagues would not vote against the Third Reading of the 108 Bill. I hope the House will forgive me for mentioning that as an example of the difficulties of an Opposition. It is most disheartening and disconcerting when a small body of people do their best only to find that they are up against a brick wall on certain occasions.
Subject to that comment, I wish the Government every success in their efforts. Naturally, we must await the elaboration of the contents of the gracious Speech. As headlines, they sound all right, but, as I said at the outset, while a menu may look very attractive on paper, when you get the dish sent up it may not always be to your liking. When the dish comes we shall examine it, and we shall do our best to improve it. In the meantime, we wish the Government every possible success in the difficult task that confronts them.
§ THE PAYMASTER GENERAL (THE EARL OF SELKIRK)
My Lords, I beg to move that the debate be now adjourned.
§ Moved, That the debate be now adjourned.—(The Earl of Selkirk.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly.
§ House adjourned at five minutes past six o'clock.