HL Deb 30 July 1957 vol 205 cc284-345

3.7 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, as your Lordships will see from the Order Paper, we have two important debates for to-day, and a number of your Lordships have put their names down for a speech on one or the other of them, even if we have no further speeches from any uncovenanted source on the second. I am wondering, therefore, whether it would not be for the convenience of the House (from my small inquiries I gather rather that it would) were I to move this Bill formally and reserve the remarks which I would desire to make upon it until I have heard the observations that your Lordships wish to make. I feel myself that would be a convenient course. By the time we reach the end of July it might be assumed that any Member of either House of Parliament is in general aware of the provisions of the Finance Bill and would have his own observations he would desire to make. Therefore, with the permission of the House, I would desire formally to move this Bill be now read a second time.


My Lords, I think one has a fair knowledge of what has been the general finance policy, but the Finance Bill is another matter, and those of us who have been busy on other business while the other place has been considering this measure would like some explanations. I would quote one instance— exactly how Clause 2 is going to work, and points of that kind. If we do not have that at the beginning of the debate, not very much backbone is added to the debate.


I should desire to fall in with your Lordships' wishes in this respect. The noble Viscount now wishes for a special explanation of Clause 2. Of course, I shall be in a position lo give it, but there may be other noble Lords who have questions about other clauses, and I think your Lordships would generally wish to be spared an exposition of the Government brief on the other individual clauses. I still think the convenient course would be if I formally moved the Second Reading and then took account of any queries your Lordships might make about individual clauses hereafter.


My Lords, it would be a dangerous precedent if Ministers were to come down here and say that, because everybody knows about it, there is no need to explain and defend it. There may be cases which nobody knows. No one knows better than the noble Viscount how to make a case, but I think if this course were to be pursued it would be a very unusual Parliamentary procedure.


Hear, hear! We strongly object.


My information is that this is not only not a departure from precedent but is in accordance with the general practice of the House when it is desired to hold a debate of a general economic character. I did not see the noble Viscount, but I saw one of his distinguished colleagues, and I understood from that colleague that this would be a convenient course. I wonder whether the noble Viscount would not reconsider his attitude on this matter.




If he desires me to say a few words by way of introduction, I will certainly do so, but I certainly do not propose to go right through the whole Bill, because I feel certain that if I did that I should not be acting in accordance with the wishes of the House.


I think that that is a most objectionable standpoint to take up. After all, we are sitting as a House of Parliament, and here we have a Bill of considerable importance which is very complex in some of its provisions. When a Minister of the Crown is here to move the Second Reading of the Bill, I think we are entitled to have a proper explanation of the Bill. It is not to be assumed that every one of us is so bright, as somebody else may be, as to know all about the clauses. I consider that it is the duty of the Minister to sec that the Bill is properly explained.


My Lords, I should like to support what the noble Viscount has just said. Noble Lords on these Benches have not been approached on any such matter. A further point is that, if the noble Viscount is going to make his exposition at the end of the debate, noble Lords will have no opportunity of raising points, because, by tradition of the House, we do not speak twice on Second Reading.


My Lords, I say frankly that I am surprised at the attitude of the noble Viscount. My only desire in this matter arose from the knowledge that two important matters were down for discussion to-day, and I had thought, perhaps unduly modestly, that the House would desire to be spared two speeches by me. As objection has been raised, I shall, of course, say a word or two by way of opening, but I certainly do not intend a full exposition of the Bill. If I have erred in this matter, I say at once that I shall be sincerely sorry if the House should feel me guilty of any discourtesy to the House. I had thought I was following the desires of noble Lords in being concise at the beginning, and I shall perforce have to be concise. If I have, in fact, misjudged the wishes of the House in this matter, I have done so in good faith and not with any desire to treat the matter frivolously. It so happens that my own judgment in this matter was fortified by that of a very prominent member of the Party opposite, and I thought that probably, having taken his opinion, I should be acting correctly. But if the House and the noble Viscount desire me to say a word or two by way of opening, I will certainly do so.


May I say at once that I do not depart at all from my request that the Ministerial Bench should follow what I consider to be the proper practice on the Second Reading of a very important draft Statute. I think that that is the right of Parliament. To promise to say a few words in substitution for opening the debate by a speech does not meet me at all. It may not be possible that the noble Viscount can now change from the course that he has set himself. If that is the case, then I shall be obliged to put a Motion on the Paper as to the future process to be followed in this House upon Second Readings.


My Lords. I am sorry if the noble Viscount should feel that I have in any way offended against his view of what Parliament should require on these occasions. The advice I have received—and this is the first occasion on which I have had to deal with this particular matter—was that a formal speech by way of opening was customary in this House. I may be entirely in error, but I still feel that there is no particular reason, from anything the noble Viscount has said, to believe that I was wrong. Therefore, whilst putting myself, of course, entirely in the hands of the House in desiring to be absolutely reasonable in this respect. T would proceed along the course which I have outlined. If the noble Viscount feels after discussion of the matter with his noble friends that I have erred, obviously he must put down his Motion, which we should then be happy to discuss. But I think, in fact, some of his noble friends may consider that I have pursued a reasonable course and, in spite of the noble Viscount's serious strictures upon me, have attempted to pursue a proper course in the matter.


That course has not been very carefully pursued if neither of the Leaders of the Opposition Parties has been consulted.


I was advised that this was the ordinary course; otherwise, if I had been contemplating a departure in any way. I should have made certain that the Leaders of the Opposition Parties were consulted. Personally, I still think that the course which I proposed was the advisable one, because, from such experience as I have had, the Second Reading of the Finance Bill has been treated invariably as an occasion for a general economic debate in which the widest possible subjects have been introduced. I have already had, for instance, from the noble Lord, Lord Barnby, notice that he will require me to answer at length upon the financing of the nationalised industries below the line. Other noble Lords may wish to speak about inflation and the general economic situation. I think it would be an intolerable imposition on this House if the Minister, in introducing the Finance Bill, should have to go clause by clause through a very elaborate Bill, most of which is repeated from time to time, instead of guiding the debate, as I had hoped to do, into general channels of economic policy where I had thought it might pursue a useful purpose. I still believe that if the matter were taken to a Division of the House, that is the view that it would take.


The noble Viscount can always do that. He has the strength.


The noble Viscount does not always, I think, take into account the opinion of other Members, even of his own Party.


My Lords, as a humble member of the noble Viscount's Party, may I ask the noble Viscount opposite to desist from trying to stir up subversion on this side of the House?


My Lords, I can assure the noble Viscount that it is quite unnecessary to try to stir up subversion in the Party opposite. It stirs itself up without the smallest difficulty; and not the worst exponent of the art is the noble Viscount himself.


The noble Viscount opposite has no right in this House to make a personal reflection, which is without any foundation at all.


I certainly did not intend to make any personal reflection upon the noble Viscount but if he would take the opinion of his numerous and no doubt united supporters I think he would find that in this one instance some of them do not agree with him. At any rate, since the noble Viscount desires me to say a word, I shall say a word or two.

All I desire to say by way of introducing this Bill is this. This Budget must be viewed in the light of two separate considerations. The first is the pattern of Budgets which have taken place in the last seven years. It must not, therefore, be viewed in isolation as a single act of policy; and, in the second place, it must be viewed in relation to the economic situation in which we find ourselves. As regards the first, the Budget is the latest, and not I hope the last, of a series of Budgets the general tenor of which has been to reduce the burden of taxation on the people. The burden of taxation which we found when we entered office was well above 30 per cent. of the gross national product. It has now fallen well below 30 per cent. of the gross national product. In point of fact, if the reductions in taxation were quantified in point of pounds, and we were to seek to recover from the country, with the greater gross national product which it now possesses, the yield Of taxation which was being recovered from the country by the Party opposite, we should now be drawing from the country a revenue by way of taxation of something of the order of £1,000 million more. To my mind, that is in itself a strong justification of the policy adopted by successive Conservative Chancellors of the Exchequer by way of fiscal change.

In particular, they have greatly reduced the burden of direct taxation. I have a long and impressive list of the reductions in direct taxation since 1951. There are some people who would seek to make this Budget an isolated example of complaint—for instance, that in this Budget at last, after seven years, something has been done for the higher ranges who pay the additional imposition of surtax. So far as I am concerned. I see nothing whatever to apologise for in that provision. In 1952 we made reductions in income tax estimated to cost £230 million in a full year, and we made reductions in profits tax estimated to cost £100 million in a full year. In 1953–54 we made further reductions in income tax estimated to cost £140 million in a full year, and we restored initial allowances to the extent of £85 million in a full year. In 1955–56 we made further reductions in income tax estimated to cost £150 million, and in 1956 we made reliefs on savings estimated to cost £50 million. In this year we have increased child allowances so as to cost £½ million to the Revenue. We have given old age relief; we have extended earned income relief, and we have increased investment allowances and made other variations in indirect taxation and in other duties, We consider that in this long pattern of taxation relief, upon which we have been embarked from the beginning, there is nothing whatever mean or improper in adding at the tail end of the queue the unfortunate surtax payer.

I, as Minister of Education, am constantly urging the public to view, as a matter of supreme importance, the conferring upon the entire population of adequate educational opportunities, amongst which opportunities the advance of technological and technical knowledge are the most important. When I took office six months ago I received from my predecessor a plan, the purpose of which has been to double the output of our advanced technical colleges within ten years and to go on expanding thereafter. I ask the House, what kind of future can these young men and women look forward to? What sort of earnings are they going to receive at the end of their years of training and discipline?

Noble Lords opposite tend, I think, to regard the surtax payer as a wealthy person who exists at the expense of the community. But I look forward to the future for these young men and young women whom we are now engaged in educating. I look forward to a future for them in which earnings of £2,000 a year, the surtax minimum, will be relatively small; to a time in which they can look forward, with a general rise in the standard of life in this country, to earnings well above the surtax minimum. Those careers are now open to young men and women of all classes, thanks to the improvement of our education. How long, may I ask, is the Party opposite, which objects to these reliefs in taxation, to make itself the Party of mediocrity—to say that it wants ultimately to penalise the young men and women who undergo long discipline and training? We, at any rate, are not content with that position. Let me warn the Party opposite quite seriously about this. In point of fact, if we do not provide in this country a proper opportunity for these young men and women getting university degrees, and passing out of different technical colleges and colleges of advanced technology, they will be "raided" and tempted away from this island by other countries who will know how to appreciate their services.

This, then, is the Budget which has received the kind of attack which says that what we are doing is to seek to give preference to the wealthy. On the contrary, we are seeking in this country to give opportunity for all, and especially the qualified; and I must tell the Party opposite, in no unmistakable terms, that if they continue to identify themselves with mediocrity, and always assert that those who have qualifications and who have undergone training must suffer some penalisation because of their qualifications and because they want to take their share of the things to which their qualifications entitle them, they will, in fact, destroy themselves quite certainly as a great Party. At any rate, we shall seek to persuade them that their course is neither right nor popular.

The only other point which I think has come into general consideration in this matter has been the choice which the Chancellor of the Exchequer made of budgeting for a surplus of £468 million, distributing £100 million by way of taxation relief and retaining the rest as a Budget surplus. The justification for that decision is not far to seek. The basis, which I shall seek to elaborate more completely, perhaps at the end of the debate, can usefully be stated at this stage in a few words. The key to the development of a free society in the modern world is investment—investment in the public sector and investment in the private sector. The balance which has been struck by the Chancellor of the Exchequer between £100 million of tax relief and the rest in a Budget surplus is designed to meet the investment in the public sector of finance. It seems to me that this is an extremely prudent course for him to have taken.

I should like to add a word or two, if I may, about the general situation in which we find ourselves, then I will leave this Bill, with its individual provisions, to the House, on the lines which I outlined to begin with. In the first place, I think we must admit that, in order to deal with a disease it is first of all necessary to analyse the cause, and to remove it. The situation in regard to inflation in which we find ourselves is one the cause of which is not too far to seek. We have been, as I believe, living permanently since 1945 in a high cost economy; I myself do not think that that is a bad thing. We are living in a high price economy; I do not think that that is a bad thing. We are living in an economy where men demand, and receive, high wages; I do not think that that is a bad thing. But the events which have taken place over the last eighteen months constitute an increase in the wage bill to the nation of over £900 million, of which fully £800 million remained after taxation, without any comparable increase in production.

The eighteen months through which we have passed were designed as an eighteen months in which there should be a period of investment. We have succeeded in turning them into a period of investment, and we have used the last eighteen months to increase our productive capacity. I myself believe that we are on the verge of a great increase in production based on that increase in productive capacity. Therefore, I do not share to the full the alarms which have been expressed about the inflationary situation, tiresome and embarrassing as it has been in the last few months. But I must say that in each case rises in wages and salaries must in future bear some relation to production. I am not prepared to concede the view that any particular group of people are entitled, as of right, before any increase in the product of industry has been established, to demand for themselves a larger slice of what exists. That is not, to quote the words of a gentleman who speaks frequently out of doors to defend the workers' standard of living". It is, in fact, to undermine the workers' standard of living—indeed, it is to undermine the standard of living of all the members of the community.

My Lords, the Budget, as I see it, has two main functions in a modern society. The first is to raise the necessary revenue for public purposes, and the second is to provide—so far as a Government can provide it—an economic policy which will secure stability and prosperity for the country for which it is designed. I am able to commend this Finance Bill from both points of view. I would only add this: I do not think it is wise for people to delude themselves about the source of our present distresses. I am not myself prepared to be one of those to complain of the recent increase in the prices of nationalised services or of Government services like the Post Office. I believe that the alternative would be dishonest finance, and I do not regard dishonest finance as a means of obtaining an honest currency. I am here, therefore, to defend the economic policy of Her Majesty's Government. I have spoken at such short length in response to the noble Viscount and I would, with respect, reserve my further comments until I have heard what he has to say.

Moved, that the Bill be now read 2a.(Viscount Hailsham.)

3.32 p.m.


My Lords, you will realise that I am not a person who delights in Party controversy in this House; I am not a person who wishes to add additional acrimony to a debate. And I will add this: that I always have a great admiration for the noble and learned Viscount who illumines our debates in this House with wit and with a certain amount of wisdom and general sagacity. But I am quite sure he will forgive me, after his vigorous speech, if I say that the speech which he has delivered in opening the Second Reading of the Finance Bill is about the most extraordinary speech that I have ever heard a Minister make from the Benches opposite in introducing a Government measure. Instead of defending the Bill which he is proposing to move, he attacks the Party on this side of the House who, up to that moment, had made no remarks at all except to express the wish that he would describe the Bill before them. The noble and learned Viscount put up an Aunt Sally, which he said was the Party opposite to his, and proceeded to pelt it, if I may say so, with rotten eggs. I cannot feel that, when he comes to read his speech in retrospect, he will have that admiration for his own achievements which on other occasions he rightly enjoys.

Having said that, I do not propose to follow the noble and learned Viscount into a discussion which ranged over the last five or six years in which he attacked what he alleged was the policy of our Party. The noble and learned Viscount is not entitled to assume that we on these Benches in this House are simply mouthpieces of Back Benchers in another place, and on a suitable occasion we will give our own views as to our policy on finance and will deal with the arguments which he puts forward. Quite clearly, however, that opportunity is not to-day, and I propose to deal with one isolated matter, because I believe that it is a question which is occupying the minds not only of Members of this House but of all people who think at all about finance and, indeed, in some degree, of the mass of the people of this country. That is, the question of inflation. Perhaps on that subject the noble and learned Viscount will deliver his post mortem speech at the end, in some answer to our queries, instead of making it at the beginning of a debate, for which it seemed to me inappropriate.

I feel that it would be a waste of your Lordships' time if I were to deal at any length with any other matter. Your Lordships are well aware that we in this House are not allowed to alter one comma of the Finance Bill, still less to reject it in toto; but we are allowed—and it is our right and duty—to discuss large financial issues; and I select this particular matter of inflation which seems to me of such vital importance to our country at the present time. No one who has even a smattering of knowledge of finance and economics can be in any doubt today that the body politic of this nation is infected with the germ of inflation, and those who have made any study of this disease are rightly fearful less it should get completely out of control and become a rampant fever.

The facts are not really in dispute. It is only necessary to go back a few days in our history to call attention to what is happening. Coal has gone up; gas prices are up; bus fares are to rise; the cost of steel has been increased; postal charges have gone up 10 per cent., 20 per cent. and 30 per cent., and an extra £42 million is being collected on postal charges as a whole which go into the Exchequer. I think everybody agrees that rents are going to be higher, though by how much may be a matter of doubt. Some people think they will only go up slightly, while others think they will go up enormously; but that they are going up is, I believe, a matter of common agreement. Salaries and wages are being raised and in every one of these things—whether they be goods or services—we are not going to get a larger packet for our money. We are not going to get better quality for our money. We are going to get the same article and we are going to have to pay more for it.

In that connection I should like to tell your Lordships of what I saw of inflation in the period between the wars when I was twice in Germany. I well remember what happened on those two visits. On the first occasion I went there for about ten days. Travelling in a tramcar in one city (I forget whether it was Berlin or Munich) I saw that the notice in the tram-car showed that the minimum fare had gone up from 80 pfennigs to I mark—that is, 100 pfennigs. On the day I left, ten days later, there was a notice in the car saying that the minimum fare would be increased from 100 pfennigs to 120 pfennigs. That was the inflation which was there during my first visit. I went again a year or two later, when an entirely different state of inflation had been reached. No prices were given for anything, but a fixed number of marks was quoted. In order to find the price that one had to pay, whether for a cab, a tram-car fare, a theatre ticket or whatever it might be, one had a multiplier; and if the figure displayed was 4 marks and the multiplier one million, you paid 4 miilion marks. And every day—later on almost every hour—the multiplier changed. On Monday morning it was 1,500,000; on Monday evening it was, perhaps, 1,600,000. Next morning it was 1,800,000, and you multiplied that by the figure on the taxi or the car or whatever it might be. That was what was happening in Germany. It was because everyone knew that inflation was taking place and was going to continue to take place.

That is one of the worst things about inflation; and we are getting very nearly into that position to-day. People say: "I had better buy the article to-day; it will go up in price." I encountered something of that sort myself in a hosier's shop the other day. In effect they said: "You had better have it now, because if you don't the price next week may well be higher: in a year or so, the price will certainly be higher." This is the worst thing that can happen with inflation—that people should take it for granted. That is what happened in Germany in between the wars, when inflation was taking place. Of course we have not got to anything like that point. I am not suggesting for one moment that we have galloping inflation. And we shall not get it if we are wise. The question we have to ask to-day is whether the Government are being wise in this matter and are staving off galloping inflation or are just disregarding it.

There was a debate in another place at the end of last week. I have taken the trouble to read through the Report of the greater part of that debate in Hansard. In particular, I read the speeches of the two Government spokesmen—the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Prime Minister himself. I am bound to say that they gave me a sense of complacency on the part of the speakers which I had not really anticipated they would exhibit. There was not a single suggestion of any fresh proposal whatsoever for dealing with inflation. The only action that was promised was the appointment of a Council on Prices, Productivity and Incomes. If your Lordships choose to regard that as a vigorous and wise step, I am not going to quarrel with it. I have no quarrel with this Council, so long as it is composed of able, unprejudiced persons, drawn, perhaps, from both sides of industry, and from the ranks of intelligent and knowledgeable consumers, and so long as it is free to make its report untrammelled by too close terms of reference.

I have no objection, if those conditions are fulfilled, to the setting up of such a Council, and I do not suppose that any of my noble friends on these Benches has either. But I do object if the Government think the appointment of this Council is a substitute for action, and that they can default while they are waiting for the Radcliffe Committee's Report and for, perhaps, one or two reports from this Council. I must remind your Lordships that these bodies have to take a great many facts into consideration, and, rightly, they have to study them for months. Sometimes the months will run well over twelve, and they may even run into years. If the Government are going to sit down and be complacent with the degree of inflation which is already going on, waiting until these reports come along, then I say that I tremble for the consequences that will ensue.

The Prime Minister referred to the prosperity of this country. I wonder whether the Prime Minister realises that in every period of inflation, and because of that inflation, there is a semblance of prosperity—at least among that section of the people which is in the active stream of life. Management is making windfall profits; workers and their wives are handling larger pay packets; Chancellors of the Exchequer are obtaining larger yields from the same rates of taxation. But unless inflation is scotched in its early stages, it grows into an uncontrollable monster which destroys even the semblance of prosperity. And in the meantime it completely dislocates the ordinary functions of a monetary economy. The old who have retired from industry and those who are living on pensions or other fixed incomes are reduced to penury. Contracts expressed in terms of money payments over a period of years become derisory. It is for this reason that we have the flight from the pound, and the fall in Consols and other gilt-edged securities to almost unprecedentedly low levels I was talking just now about my experience in Germany. I should like to add one more experience of a case in which inflation got completely out of hand. Some friends of mine were left a small legacy. They had two alternatives as to the use which they could make of it. The first was to put it rigidly and carefully away in the bank. The other alternative was to spend it on bottles of wine. They were rather luxurious in nature, and they chose the latter course. They drank the wine and then sold the glass bottles, and they were able to put into the bank proceeds which were considerably larger than the whole amount of the legacy which they had originally received.

I say, therefore, that if the Government are so bankrupt of ideas about how to handle the inflation which already exists, and has existed for several years, they ought to have set up their Council a long lime ago. Before this they ought to have had its report and decided on which of its recommendations they would attempt to put into practice. Instead of that, what have they done all these years? They have obstinately stuck to their old and discredited weapon of a high bank rate. That is a wooden policy, and time and again in this House I have inveighed against it. I regard it as entirely a mistake to believe that dear money is the most appropriate and, in fact, almost the only weapon to deal with the incipient signs of inflation.

When. I started making these remarks several years ago—I think about five or six years ago—the whole of banking opinion, the whole of the sensible, orthodox opinion in this House, was against me. But in the course of those five or six years I have seen the whole climate of opinion change. I spoke on this subject some months ago, and I said that I thought opinion was veering round to my point of view. I venture to assert that to-day there are few who know anything about finance, however orthodox may be their connections, who do riot think that this dear money policy, as the main means, as almost the sole means, of dealing with inflation or any other financial irregularity in the country, has failed. I see it in all the financial papers and financial articles in the majority of papers in the country, and I assert that what I said originally as an isolated voice is now the opinion of the great mass of financiers in this country, including the bankers themselves.

Even if the main stress of dealing with finance is going to rest on monetary controls, I would maintain that there are other, more selective, less expensive and more efficacious means than increasing the hank rate. Your Lordships must realise that radical changes have taken place in the handling of money since the nineteenth century, when undoubtedly raising the bank rate was an effective remedy. Let us just run over some of the great changes that have taken place. In the nineteenth century, we had a gold currency. To-day we have not only a paper currency but an inconvertible paper currency. Your Lordships know that on a pound note there is the most informative and careful promise that if you are not satisfied with the pound note you have, you have only to take it to the Bank of England and you can get in place of it £1—a precisely similar note to the one you have. That is the only promise which is seriously, or appears to be seriously, made on the piece of paper called a pound note.

Then we have developed the whole system of Treasury Bills in a way which did not exist at all before. We have had the Exchange Equalisation Account. We have had the nationalisation of the Bank of England and the power to issue directives to the joint stock banks. We have had the Capital Issues Committee, and Treasury Deposit Receipts. Even that is not all, because we have had a great change in the set-up of the Budget and the whole attitude of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to the financial system of this country. The time was when the Chancellor of the Exchequer concerned himself, and was expected to concern himself, almost solely with the finances of the State. He was not concerned with the economy and finance of the nation as a whole, only with that part of it which found its way into the resources of the Exchequer. But all that has gone by the board. He now recognises some responsibility for all the finances—investments and everything else—of the country, and, in particular, that part which appears below the line in the Budget Statement. That is perfectly right. The State cannot pursue its economy and finance in vacuo; it can pursue it only in the atmosphere and in the circumstances which occur owing to the economy as a whole.

It does not really make a great deal of difference to the economy as a whole whether finances are raised by public subscription or paid for by the State raising a public loan or something of the sort in order to achieve its purpose. I notice that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has gone out of his way recently to do two things. Instead of financing the local authorities through the Local Loans Fund, he has now thrown them on the market. On the other hand, instead of the nationalised industries raising money directly he proposes to take them under his wing and pay them out of money from Treasury Bills, or whatever it may be he proposes to do. All that has some importance. It is partly window-dressing but the fact remains—and this is the point people who live in times of dear money do not fully realise—that there are three types of people who want to borrow money. There are the local authorities, the nationalised industries and the private sector of our industrial life.

So far as the local authorities are concerned, they have to spend their money, whether they have to pay 2, 3, 4 or 5 per cent. interest en it, because they need it for the purposes for which they exist. The nationalised industries could always be choked off altogether, but the net result would be detrimental to the country as a whole. The private sector says: "In times of inflation it makes practically no difference to us whether we pay 4, 5 or 6 per cent. interest, because we get it back in the increased value of the articles we buy to-day which in the course of a year or two can bring far more than they already bring". That is why dear money is a rusty old blunderbuss, which stayed up on the shelf for a long time and has been taken down by successive Conservative Chancellors of the Exchequer and trotted out as a wonderful weapon which they can use with great purpose and effect. But the fact is that it has proved a hopeless failure in their hands and has not achieved the purpose for which it was intended and thought by them, and by a certain number of orthodox financiers, to be right and useful.

I have said that there are other monetary policies besides the use of a high bank rate which could be used by the Government, and I adhere to that view. My Party—and I agree with them in this—recognise that monetary policy, even in its widest form, is still not the main method for dealing with inflation. The whole country, and particularly the representatives of the larger sections of the country, must be brought into cooperative support of Government policy. I am certainly not going to attack the Conservative Party, because the Conservative Party covers a large number of people of widely different views—that we have seen on many occasions lately—but I will attack that wing of the Conservative Party which holds the view, which I think to be not only improper but foolish, that inflation owes its origins solely to lack of restraint on the part of the working man. They say: "If only the trade union leaders would show a little restraint, what a different world we should live in! We should have an end of this talk of inflation. Everything would go smoothly. But these wretched trade unionists care nothing about the country; they only care about themselves. They are agitators leading on their people to destruction."

I wonder how far those members of the Party opposite have gone in thinking of what would be the case if the trade union leaders in this country were to lack restraint of any kind. They are in an exceedingly strong position at the present time. Suppose that where they now ask for 10s., the trade union leaders were to ask for £1, and where they now ask for £1. they were to ask for £2—and why should they not ask for £3 or £4 more a week? They could put the country to very great inconvenience in resisting their demands. They could hold the country up to ransom, and if they did, very likely they would be able to get a considerable part of their way. The fact that they do not do that and are prepared to settle on a reasonable, moderate basis is due almost exclusively to the restraint which is shown by trade union leaders at the present time. Of course, I do not propose to go too far. I am not going to suggest for one moment that sometimes the claims for increases may not be too great—possibly they are. After all, it is not very much that the ordinary public can do about it one way or the other. When an industrialist puts up the price of his commodity, he may be justified in making a small increase, but I am not sure that in a great many cases it is not a greater increase than the circumstances justify; and we poor consumers and public have to put up with it.

I say that if we are to live together in harmony as a nation we have to take a reasonable view of our rights and responsibilities. The Government must do two things: first, they must hold the scales impartially between all sections of the community; and secondly, they must give a firm and wise lead. The noble Viscount who made those few perfunctory remarks at the beginning claimed that the Government in the past—and he went rather rapidly over about six years of Conservative rule—had always acted with great wisdom and justice and held the scales equally between different sections. Obviously, I cannot in a few moments in the closing part of my speech deal with the whole of his argument; it is a matter for discussion. I will only say this to him now. A large number of people do not take his view. It is not enough to be just; you have to be palp ably just; you must convince the people of this country that you are just. I cannot here and now say whether the Conservatives have been just or not, but I am certain that large numbers of the people do not consider that they have been, and I am bound to say that I think they are able to make out a fair case against the Government in this matter.

The Government, in the application of their dogma of "free for all," are out of focus, in my opinion, with the changed conditions of the second half of the 20th century. They have to convince the man in the street of the necessity' of putting public weal before private advantage; they have to demonstrate in their legislation, including the Budget, that they themselves put the same principle into practice and put the interests of the nation above the shibboleths of their own Party. They must abandon the fetish that dear money is the beginning and end of all wisdom, and shake themselves free from the orthodox and out-of-date financial tendencies. If they fail to do these things, it will mean that they have lost control of the financial situation and economic position of the country; and it will mean they have lost something else, too: they will have lost the support of the people, as a whole.

4.4 p.m.


My Lords, I think we should be grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, for persuading the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, to make an opening speech. In these debates on the Finance Bill, which we have at far too late a date in the Summer Session, thus giving us little time to consider this Bill and the St. James's Theatre on the same day, we have always been used to an opening speech. I quite agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, that that speech need not be a long one, but. I think it is helpful to Members of the House that anyone introducing a Bill should make fairly comprehensive remarks on it.

We have heard from the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, that this Budget must be considered as one of a series; and I entirely agree with that suggestion. We have heard, also, a justification of the reduction of surtax, or of allowances for surtax. On that I should like to say that the young men of ability and intelligence—and perhaps also older men of ability and intelligence—about whom the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, was speaking particularly, perhaps, as Minister of Education, will find that the £2,000 a year which they may get in the future, including the increased rate of income tax which they have to pay now, apart from any surtax, compares in value with about £500 before the war, which is the yearly amount I pay my present cowman. I think that must be taken into account. We have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Pethick-Lawrence, about inflation, and I intend to come back to that a little later. But this £2,000 a year is really a fictitious amount, and it purchases the equivalent of what an income of £500 a year would have purchased before the last war.

To come to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Pethick-Lawrence, I do not know what other noble Lords on this side of the House think, but I entirely agree with the noble Lord about dear money. I think the Government are entirely wrong about dear money, and I have said so on a number of occasions. If I may take the allusions of the noble Lord, Lord Pethick-Lawrence, he talked about dear money being borrowed by local authorities, which means to say that they have to charge higher rents for their council houses; that rates go up, and that industry and individuals have to pay higher rates. That means, in turn, that the cost of living goes up, the cost of production goes up—in fact, everything goes up. If the nationalised industries have to borrow hundreds of millions of pounds (and we were told that the railways would have to borrow £1,200 million; your Lordships will remember that a gentleman who was an accountant in the railways made a statement that it ought to be £2,000 million, and not £1,200 million) at 6 per cent. or 7 per cent., is it not going to cost more than borrowing it in the days of Mr. Dalton at 2 or 3 per cent.?

I believe that more financiers and bankers are beginning to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Pethick-Lawrence, that dear money is not a help towards curbing inflation. I think there is no doubt that the banker, who, after all, is a moneylender and trades in money, would like to be able to lend money; and perhaps it may suit him to lend it at present at the higher rate of interest. On the other hand, money is becoming worth less and less, and the bankers' commodity is becoming worth less and less. One reason is that the rates of interest are so high, from the point of view of private industry. The way to compete with foreigners is to modernise one's factory by borrowing money; and the way to keep your costs down for export is to have your factory mechanised and modernised as much as possible. If the company have to borrow that money at 6 per cent. or 7 per cent. interest they may say that they are charged more. But that is not the point. One of these days, when inflation has taken place in this country to a greater extent than now, we shall not be able to compete with other countries in the export market. Their inflation, in certain instances, is not so great as ours. If industry has to borrow money at a high rate of interest, that puts up the cost of production, and in due course will reduce exports.

To refer to certain specific points in the Budget, I happen to sit on the National Trust Historic Buildings Council, and also on the executive of the Council for the Preservation of Rural England. I must say that I am very exercised by the large reduction from £60 million to £10 million in the Land Fund. The Land Fund was proposed and set in motion by Mr. Dalton some years ago; and Mr. Dalton has very sound views on the preservation of the countryside and of historic buildings. In this' last Budget, in Clause 41, the Land Fund is reduced by one fell swoop from £60 million to £10 million. I think that this is a mistaken step. I do not believe that the £10 million which is left in the Land Fund will be anything like enough to preserve the beauty and the historic buildings of the country in the next few years. I might add here that, at the very moment the Land Fund has been reduced, death duties are extracting enormous sums from the country, from industry, landowners, farmers and everyone else—in fact, the citizens of the country. Since the war, £2,000 million has been taken in death duties from the pockets of the private individuals of this country.

Mr. Gladstone said—and he was a very wise Prime Minister, although not of my Party—that money was best left in the pockets of the people to fructify. What have Governments done since the war except take £2,000 million of private individuals' money, and spend it in the ordinary way in which Governments spend money? If some of that £2,000 million could have been left in the pockets of the landowners of the country, the Government would not have had to provide £250,000 a year to help to repair houses of historic interest in the country. As a member of the Committee of the National Trust Historic Buildings Council, I am grateful that this £250,000 is made available. But that sum is coming from Government grants annually only because so much capital has been taken from the pockets of the people who used to own those houses.

I think it is a short-sighted policy that this sum of £2,000 million should have been taken since the war, and that no Government. Conservative or Labour, have ever reduced death duties. From the political point of view, death duties are a levelling down. By the time everyone gets down to the lowest, I shall be very sorry for the country.

I am sorry that no Conservative Government have reduced death duties and, unfortunately, certain members of the Labour Party regard death duties as a good thing. Therefore, we cannot really expect them to have reduced death duties. The noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, said in his speech, "I hope this is not the last Budget to reduce taxation." I fully concur with him, and I should like to suggest to the Chancellor of the Exchequer that he might have a look at the harm wrought by death duties, not only on agriculture but on private businesses and on the industry of the country, before he considers his next Budget.

Having criticised the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Government on those points, there is another point upon which I should like to congratulate them. I welcome Clause 8, which reduces purchase tax. Your Lordships will remember that in the autumn of 1955 Mr. Butler, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, put increased purchase tax on floor coverings, rugs, hardware, kitchen ware, toilet ware, domestic appliances, cutlery, spoons, forks, et cetera. I thought at the time that that was one of the most foolish acts I had known by a Chancellor of the Exchequer of any Party. The immediate result was a round of wage rises. It is perfectly right that if the working man's wife has to pay more for household necessities, he must have more wages with which to buy those household necessities. If I may say so, the ancient and outworn Treasury view was that if you tax people more, they will spend less, and that that will better combat inflation. That view, in my opinion, is just as outworn as the view that high money rates combat inflation. I think they are both entirely wrong, and there is no doubt that, when extra purchase tax is imposed, it adds to the cost of living. That causes further wage rises, which means that the cost of production of articles in industry goes up and inflation goes on and on, because, the cost of production having gone up, the companies have to charge more for their articles, which means another wage rise immediately on top of the last one.

I was pleased to hear the noble. Viscount, Lord Hailsham, take the side of those who wish to reduce taxation. The Government now are so much the senior partner in all industries. The noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, mentioned 30 per cent. as the amount which had been deducted out of the national income by way of taxes before the Conservative Party came into power, and that that sum has now been reduced to considerably under 30 per cent. May I wish our Government the very best of luck in reducing it still further, because there is no doubt that high taxation is one of the causes of inflation. The old Treasury view that the higher you tax people the less they have to spend and, therefore, the less they will spend, is, in my opinion, as dead as the dodo.

Arising out of the last Budget, £400 million was kept by the Chancellor of the Exchequer below the line. Had he been a company chairman he would have said that he was putting £400 million to reserve, so as to invest in some further acquisitions or in some other industries. That is, in effect, what he was doing. But I should like to suggest that that is itself, to a certain extent, inflationary, because it means that £400 million more is taken out of the pockets of the people than would have been taken if he had reduced purchase tax, pay-as-you-earn, income tax, or any other form of taxation, by that amount. In addition, this last year nearly £200 million was taken from the capital of the people in death duties, making a total of £600 million in excess of what should have been taken from the capital of the citizens of this country. I believe that had this £600 million been left in their pockets to be invested by private individuals, it would have been much better.

If the nationalised industries wanted to raise money, they could raise it from private individuals, from the banks, or by Treasury Bonds in other ways, by borrowing it in the ordinary old-fashioned way, if, of course, they were not wedded to this policy of a high bank rate. Being wedded to that policy, it really means that the Government have to extract the money required from the pockets of the people, because they may not be able to get it in any other way. My own view is that the £400 million below the line is in itself inflationary, and I think that before another year this sort of question should be considered most seriously by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Treasury. Arising out of that, I was pleased to hear the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, say that The key to the development in a free society in the modern world is investment. Of course it is. And in order to get that money for investment, one must leave as much as possible in the pockets of the people and not have a high bank rate.

The noble Lord, Lord Pethick-Lawrence, told us of his experiences in Germany. Certainly Germany went through a very hard time after the First World War, and through another hard time after the Second World War, having been defeated. But Germany has twice more or less done away with its National Debt, either through inflation or otherwise. Germany is now beating us in industry and commerce because she is not saddled with the same amount of debt with which we are saddled. There is no doubt that the Germans are a very hardworking people. Without casting any aspersions on our nation—employers, employees and everyone else—the Germans are harder-working than we are; and if we do not get our costs down there is no doubt that they will beat us and they are beating us at the present time.

The noble Lord, Lord Pethick-Lawrence, said that there is no doubt—and I quote him: that the body politic is infected with the germ of inflation. It certainly is. On all sides of the House we realise that. Therefore, although the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, suggested, in a letter to The Times a week or two ago, that a Commission should be set up, it may well be that before the Commission has time to report, inflation will have got out of hand. I think, therefore, that the debates in this House and in another place are most useful, because Members of both Houses can express their opinions to their fellow Members, instead of appearing before a Royal Commission, which takes two, three or more years to report. I feel that these debates are useful. We have only one opportunity a year to talk on finance. Moreover, we have no power to put into effect what we are talking about—we can only suggest. I think it is a pity that a larger number of Peers are not speaking on the Finance Bill, and that the debate on the St. James's Theatre could not have taken place at some other time. I know that the Session is so far gone that to-day is no doubt the only day that debate can take place; but, as I say, I think it is a pity that the two come together.

To return to Lord Pethick-Lawrence's remark that "the body politic is infected with the germ of inflation," he instanced, as proof of that, recent or prospective increases in coal, gas, bus fares, steel, postal charges, rents, salaries and wages. And I might add that even Members of another place have had a little rise lately; and perhaps some of our expenses may come in useful in these inflationary times. The noble Lord also said that one will buy the same article but will pay more for it. There is no doubt that that is true. He also said that unless inflation is scotched, it easily grows into an "uncontrollable monster." That, too, is very definitely true.

My Lords, I feel that inflation is a non-Party or an all-Party subject. It concerns everyone living in this country, and I have said on other occasions that I do not think members of the Trades Union Congress will, to use the vulgar term, "take it" from a Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer. They are always suspicious that a Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer may be telling them that they must not ask for increased wages for some other reason than the one he is giving. I feel that wages at present, are not likely to be controlled by any remarks from a Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer or even a Conservative Prime Minister, yet it is absolutely necessary, if wages are to go up, that wages and production should go up hand in hand. From the point of view of combating inflation, it would be much better if wages stayed where they were and the rate of production went up; but that is not to be expected from human beings. If they produce more they deserve to be paid more; but, as I say, I think the two should go up hand in hand as far as possible.

I appeal to the members of the Party on the other side of the House to realise that this is really a matter beyond Party politics, and that this country is going to get into a very serious position unless wages are in some way linked to production. I do not consider that inflation in this country is anything approaching the sort of inflation that we saw in Germany and in some other countries after the First World War, but it is a very serious matter. It is also an interesting fact that it has been going on ever since William the Conqueror. I was looking the other day at a book which showed that members of my family had the fishing rights on three rivers in Northern Ireland before they were turned out by the Scots at the time of the Plantation of Ulster. They sold their salmon from those three rivers at one penny per pound. I believe now that if you can get it for 8s. 6d. per pound you are lucky. Inflation has been going on for centuries, but is it up to us to try to prevent it from gathering too great a momentum.

To come back to this question of taxation, income tax, pay-as-you-earn, profits tax, tobacco duty, spirits tax, tea duty, sugar dury—-ithey are all inflationary. The other day I was told that if you buy a glass of whisky the duty, if calculated as purchase tax, would come to 350 per cent. Not being a whisky drinker myself, it does not affect me, but 350 per cent. purchase tax on a glass of whisky is very high. I would not say that whisky is a necessity, but certain people may regard it as such. It shows how much the Government, or the Treasury, take out of everything. I feel that it is absolutely essential that the whole question of really drastic economy should be gone into by the Treasury. They have quite a long time before the next Budget, but unless the Government economise, and unless the nationalised industries also exercise some measure of economy, there is no doubt that we shall get into a very serious state. I should like to end my few remarks by saying that I hope this question of inflation can be looked at in an all-Party way and that it will not arouse passions on one side or the other. Perhaps an agreed appeal might be made to all sides of industry from the leaders of all Parties to do their best to prevent this inflationary spiral from going up and up.

4.25 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord. Lord Brocket, who has just resumed his seat has brought an atmosphere into the debate which is wholly for the good. We on this side are obliged to him for the manner in which he has approached the problem we are discussing to-day. I am more than grateful to my noble friend Lord Pethick-Lawrence for the way in which he has dealt with this problem of inflation. I do not think that I would accept anyone in the whole of this country as a much greater authority than Lord Pethick-Lawrence on such a question as this, from our proved experience of his work on the problem itself, and of the fulfilment, in no uncertain manner, of his prophecies as to what would happen in given periods through which we have passed. He has again this afternoon given us the benefit of his advice, by which I hope we shall all benefit.

The noble Lord, Lord Brocket, was kind enough to say at the end of his speech that he hoped that this question would, in the future, as far as possible be looked at as a non-Party question. There is no question at all that the general inflation of a catastrophic type that we might reach if we did not take steps to arrest it would be injurious to all sections of the community. It ought to be looked upon as a great national issue and dealt with as such. On the other hand, we have been passing through exceedingly troublesome financial waters for the whole of the period since 1945 up till now. As I have said in your Lordships' House before. we are sometimes apt to overlook what we have actually expended from our national wealth and resources in doing our duty in the world on two great occasions, thereafter being left to struggle to recover our position against competitors in the world who were not nearly so badly placed as we were.

Look at the general trend in prices, costs and investment in the years since 1945, and consider the position from which this country started. We were then literally in bankruptcy. We had reached the end of the war and had been living for a considerable period largely upon Lease-Lend aid, which was then suddenly cut off. Look at the struggle of all classes in the community in this country and what they have achieved in increased production, comparing volume with volume, ton with ton, against the pre-war figures. It is the sort of thing which has not been achieved in similar circumstances by any other country in the world. It is perfectly true that the German people, as remarked by the noble Lord, Lord Brocket, a very hard-working people. have had two periods of recovery also since the First and the Second war. But it is also true that they rid themselves of a large part of their burden by getting rid of their national debt by inflation of their currency; in other words by quite dishonest finance.

That is the one thing that I would fasten on in the speech of the noble Viscount this afternoon. At the beginning he made a condemnation of dishonest finance. That is almost the only point I agreed with in what he said. It is to the great credit of this country that, with all that we have been struggling to do, we are doing our best to pay our debts. The general reputation of the country in the future must be maintained if we are to hold our own in production, export and the fiscal exchange values, upon which we so much depend. The fact is, however, that in a debate like this you cannot—if I may say so to the noble Lord, Lord Brocket—wholly excuse Governments for the policies which they adopt. The debate opened this afternoon with an attack upon my Party. That was commented upon, I think quite sufficiently and quietly, by my noble friend Lord Pethick-Lawrence, and I do not need to add anything to what he said. But it raises the Party issue very strongly indeed.

In the period from 1945 to 1951 we had tremendous pressure upon us to restrict consumption of goods and to boost exports, to try to re-establish our position overseas which, in the commercial sense, had almost entirely been lost during the course of the war. The extent to which prices rose then was also very much affected by the fact that general world prices moved against us and the whole of our imports were costing us very much more pro rata than they have been costing the country during the last three or four years. The disappointing thing about the present situation is that we have to try to deal with this situation now, after we have had the benefit of a long period of cheaper imports compared with the prices we had to contend with between 1945 and 1951.

The noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, at the opening of his remarks this afternoon, claimed great credit for the present Government because they had in their successive Budgets considerably reduced direct taxation. It is not the only series of Budgets which have included a reduction of direct taxation, especially when one considers the form of reliefs given from 1945 to 1951. I would agree that, having regard to the actual reduction of standard rates, and that kind of thing, there has been a steep advance in the relief of taxation for those who are best off in the country from the point of view of annual incomes. But the whole tendency of the Government's Budgets, with the exception of their impositions of such things as purchase tax in the famous pots and pans "Budget of Mr. Butler, in 1955, has been inflationary rather than deflationary. If you examine the way in which taxation has been relieved, you find it has meant increasing the incomes of people who are already in possession of good incomes. Whilst no doubt it has led in a good many cases to the increase of investment in industry, which we all welcome, nevertheless it has increased the standard of life that those people enjoy in the spending of their money. And the reliefs still go on. They are equally inflationary.

You cannot really hold these facts away from the actual course of political events. Remembering the last few words from my noble friend Lord Pethick-Lawrence this afternoon as to what may be the effect upon the people, you cannot keep your mind away from the bases of the appeals by the Party opposite in the last two Elections. One would have thought then that the main purpose of their coming into office, on a basis of "Freedom for all" and a "Free-for-all" in all these matters, was to reduce costs, to reduce prices, to reduce taxation and, indeed, in the very apt phrase that they used in their posters with regard to inflation, to "Mend that hole in your purse!" And yet, ever since that appeal, for which they got the vote in the country, instead of "the hole in the purse" being mended, prices have been going up and up; and with every successive increase in the cost of living, as the noble Lord, Lord Brocket, showed so clearly in his speech to-day, you add to the demand for more wages—and rightly so—to meet the cost. Therefore, you add to your productive costs and handicap yourself in meeting your general commitments in the export trade which is essential to buy all the things which you really need. I am bound to say that the general attitude of the Government in this matter deserves the words which the noble Lord, Lord Pethick-Lawrence, used when he spoke of his reading of the debate in another place a few days ago—that there was "an atmosphere of complacency about it."

There has been a general tendency in the Press at large and amongst a certain section of the economic critics to blame the mass of the workers in the country for the present situation. I must say that that is most unfair. The workers in this country may not be perfect—I am sure they are not; and I am sure they have their faults; have not we all?—but they, too, have done a magnificent job since 1945 in increasing the volume of production. They have reached heights of production per unit of labour employed never reached before in this country. I would challenge anybody on the figures, even after making allowance for the increased productive power provided by new types of machinery—it is only fair to take that into account. When what is available to the British workers in power and horse-power is compared with what is available in the United States, it is all the more to be wondered at that our workers have done as well as they have done. They have done a magnificent job, and for the real restraint shown during those difficult years from 1945 to 1951 we still owe them a debt of gratitude. They might have done so much more to put up the general costs and the general level of wages than they did in those years.

What has happened since? They have been promised at two Elections reduced prices and reduced costs. The "wicked Socialists" were increasing their cost of living. Ever since then, instead of getting what they were promised, they are getting just the opposite. They have had a very good time from the point of view of employment—that must be conceded—but they have had to face a steady rise in prices and less sympathetic treatment by many of the concerns involved in disputes than could be desired at the first step. They need better conditions of negotiation with the leaders of industry when these matters first come up without the subject being brushed to one side or an offer being made which is almost a joke compared with the real needs of the situation. Then, after long and protracted negotiations, sometimes with a long stoppage, they find that their substantial increases have to be met by increases in the price of the goods they have to buy. Very much better conditions are necessary, and I believe that they could be achieved if real thought, attention and co-operation were given to that matter. From my point of view, I should like to see all the co-operation possible in that direction.

When we come to deal with the situation upon which the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, saw fit to lecture the Labour Party as if he were some professorial, superior person to those who compose the ranks of my Party, who in his view do not seem to know anything about any, thing—I would ask him to believe that those of us who have grown up in the working class, who come direct from the working class and who are most proud of it, know something more about the history of the fight to get university education for youngsters than the noble Viscount seemed to understand when he was making his attack upon us. The form in which he put it was an insult to those who have laboured and slaved and sacrificed for the cause of education in this country nothing like the kind of sacrifices which, no doubt, are made now by parents of the middle and upper classes because of the high rate of taxation; the sacrifices that these other people have made are not to be compared with the sort of sacrifices that you are talking about now.

What has been Labour's own policy as a consequence? Labour's own policy has been all the time to argue for, and finally to achieve, step by step, first, free secondary education, and secondly, literally free admission to university training for all those who reach the necessary standard, irrespective of family, class, position or status. That is the case for Labour's attitude to education. and I hope that the noble Viscount who saw fit to make this attack to-day will not be anywhere behind the ideals and the purposes of the Labour Party in this matter in the course of administering his duties as the head of that great Department.


I do not want to interrupt the noble Viscount in the course of his oratory, but I must point out that both free secondary education and free university training were instituted by the Act of 1944, which is generally known as Mr. Butler's Act.


I never heard such a claim in my life—I really never did! Here was an Act of 1944, passed by a Coalition Government, and under the inspiration of inquiries carried out before Mr. Butler drafted his Bill, by members of all Parties in the Government, and inspired to a great extent by a man for whom I have great Parliamentary respect, James Chuter Ede.


The only objection I was making to the noble Viscount was arrogating to himself the phrase which I put down in words—namely, "Labour's own policy". I felt compelled to say that the noble Viscount had no right whatever to say that.


The noble Viscount is just quibbling now. I have known all my life, in the study of industrial history. that Conservative Governments have had a great deal to do with social legislation, but always at the last moment, on the basis of "Give them what they like, not too much at a time and give it to them warm". It has come about only by agitation and by co-operation and organisation within the working classes themselves. That is the actual fact, and anybody who studies industrial history knows that to be so. That is the position.

If you are really going to deal with inflation, you have got to do far more than just increase the bank rate. I hold the view so wonderfully expressed in detail by my noble friend Lord Pethick-Lawrence this afternoon. In other cases, there is only one remedy—the Prime Minister uttered it on Saturday last: more production. I believe that in relation to the given capital and labour available, that is true. But is it true having regard to the Government's management of the economy of the country? Is this something new? Not likely! In 1920 and 1921, posters were put up all round our country signed by the leaders of all Parties. I remember Mr. J. R. Clynes, with others, signing a placard to this effect: "More production the remedy in our present position." So more was produced. Then came the policy of the high bank rate, the "Geddes Axe" and everything else; this constant struggle, not purely because of inflation at the start, but because of the method adopted to deal with it—cutting off production, with millions of unemployed year after year.

I should say that it would not be going beyond present possibilities to prophesy that, unless some other cure is found, we shall be turning, through a Conservative Government, to the setting up of another "May Committee" or something of that kind. I must say that that is something for which I, at any rate, and I hope my Party, will never stand, because there are other ways. You cannot cure inflation amongst the people by having a "free for all". The problem is too big; the debt is too large; the constant fight in the world to keep our position is too straining for us. You must have controls which are really effective in dealing with goods and commerce, and which are fair to the various classes of the community who have to live in this generation and prepare their own children for the next. Unless you do that, you can depend upon it that, as a nation and as an Empire, we shall come to the same sort of disaster as all the other great empires have come before, because they have not seen the danger in time and have not brought social improvements with justice to all the people, instead of to only sections of the people.

4.47 p.m.


My Lords, when the Finance Bill comes up annually to your Lordships' House it is usual that there shall be knowledgeable analysis by those reinforced with high administrative experience. For the rest of us, it is a convenient opportunity once a year to raise matters on which we feel very strongly, and which we hope may be an incentive to consideration before a subsequent Budget. For myself, I feel that the noble Viscount who introduced the Bill, in the short way he did, gave us a lucid and effective explanation on the underlying principles of Government thinking in producing their Bill. Naturally, for the rest of us, it is also a temptation to jump into some of the arguments. We pay a tribute to the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition who made an eloquent and effective debating speech in criticism of the Bill. Before that, the criticism of the Minister—that, in introducing the Bill, he was not more lengthy—fortunately did not cause any embarrassment to Lord Pethick-Lawrence, who gave us an ample and informative analysis. But he presented himself in the guise of a vigorous crepehanger, suggesting that inflation might gallop in this country, using the instance of Germany as a precedent.

My intervention will confine itself to four points. The first one inescapably is related to the effects of inflation, which has been so prominent a subject of discussion. Naturally there is contention as to the manner in which inflation should be contained. The noble Lord, Lord Pethick-Lawrence made some quotations. I will follow his example. I will refer to the White Paper on Employment Policy (Cmd. 6527). The foreword to that document tells us that reasonable stability in the cost of living is desirable and is compatible with that high and stable level of employment which both Parties have agreed to accept as one of their primary aims and responsibilities. It says further: If we are to operate with success a policy for maintaining a high and stable level of employment there will have to be moderation in wage demands.

I pass now to my first point—the initial allowances. I am among the many who regret that Her Majesty's Government were unable to see their way to restore to the full the initial allowances. As the noble and learned Viscount told us in his opening remarks, a considerable sum was set aside out of surplus, as a contribution towards that increase. There are a great number of firms in industry who naturally have to make their plans far ahead. Hope was held out that these allowances might be restored in the near future. That their restoration is delayed prevents plans being made. I regret that more particularly because so much of our plant in this country needs renewal. It is well known that the order books of many of the engineering sections which provide industrial equipment are very long, and the delay occasioned by having to wait for another Budget and then perhaps a further two years for the fulfilment of a contract is too long. The possibility of price increases provide another reason why delay should not occur. We recognise that there is a delicate balance of reasoning as to whether it is dangerous to impose that extra demand on the economy or whether that can safely be done—and I emphasise this point—to effect a great saving in costs, also of bodies employed in industry.

I pass now to my second point—the depreciation allowances. Here, again, concessions would, of course, involve a cost to the Revenue; but the basis on which depreciation is currently permissible in a large sector of industry is inadequate. Your Lordships will be aware that the manner in which depreciation allowances are calculated varies in different countries; whether they are calculated on initial cost or on wasting value, there are different combinations in which the allowance is applied. Here values on which machinery has to be replaced are out of relationship with the basis on which they are carried on the books. That results in too-low costings and, in effect, a proportion of our exports are being given away, owing to the fact that because proper depreciation costs are not included in the price we are, in fact, exporting capital. In parenthesis, I would say that the Export Credits procedure to countries where interest rates are very high, in effect, on long dated contracts, is financing the buyers.

The third point I wish to make has been mentioned by my noble friend Lord Brocket, who is to be congratulated on the effective contribution which he made. He referred to the incidence of heavy death duties or inheritance tax. My appeal now is that there should be consideration by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to the question of bequests for educational and charitable purposes attracting relief for probate on inheritance tax. This matter has often been discussed. There is no originality in the three points that I have just made. but I most strongly emphasise the disadvantage which this country suffers by comparison with, for instance, North America and other countries where great educational institutions are progressively built up in the service they give to the community as a result of the generosity of probate relief where bequests are made for such purposes.

The fourth point to which I wish to refer is one on which I genuinely seek information, and I hope it may be possible for the noble and learned Viscount in his closing remarks to make some elucidation. Reference has already been made to it by the noble Lord. Lord Pethick-Lawrence. I refer to the financing of the nationalised industries. In his Budget speech the Chancellor of the Exchequer referred to the changed policy that is being pursued in obliging local authorities to go direct to the market and not to the Treasury. I believe it was suggested that this would effect a saving of £100 million in below-the-line expenditure and that, in enforcing this decision, an essential brake was being applied to local authority expenditure, having regard to existing inflationary conditions.

Mr. Macmillan, in his previous Budget, introduced a new principle, namely, that for the first time on any substantial scale a large sum out of the Budget surplus should be utilised in below-the-line expenditure in respect of loans by the Treasury to nationalised industries. I understand that up to March last the actual loans to nationalised industries out of the above-the-line Budget surplus amounted to some £280 million. Now it is difficult to see on what grounds it can be claimed that it is right to force the local authorities to go to the market and not to the Treasury for their loans, and then, on other grounds, proclaim that it is reasonable to take anything up to £300 million out of Budget surplus and set it aside for loans to the nationalised industries. If this is true, many people think it would be better to reduce taxation, and that the Government should, as in the case of the local authorities, oblige the nationalised industries to go to the market, if necessary supported by Treasury guarantee. Surely this procedure would make the nationalised industries more directly accountable to the public they serve for their financial operations.

I believe that an Act of Parliament exists under which nationalised industries, which are large public monopolies, should operate them so that no loss is sustained, taking one year's results with another. In raising this point, I would suggest that the Treasury give some thought to the possibility of linking relief from direct taxation in the form of a savings incentive to those citizens who are prepared to save from their incomes in order to invest in these great and essential nationalised industries. I am rather biased, in that the Central Electricity Board, of which I think I am the only original member in this House to be among those displaced on nationalisation, always raised its requirements in the open market on its performance and without invoking Government guarantee.

The noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition also referred to inflation. The nationalised industries seem to have got into a way of mostly making losses. Surely it is those losses which are the cause of the rise in costs of coal and freights and other things which the noble Viscount referred to. It is suggested that inflation cannot be stopped. Well, if this or any Government really want to stop it, all know full well that if there is a real determination on the part of all Parties to stop inflation it could be done by wielding again the "Geddes Axe." That would quickly halt inflation. But I am not recommending it. There seems a certain amount of hypocrisy about this matter. Everybody is saying: "Why is inflation not stopped?" And everybody knows that it could be stopped forthwith provided there was the requisite courage and determination to "face the music." We faced it in the 'twenties and what was done then could be done again. But, as I say, I am not recommending the "Axe" and it would not conform to Government commitment to high employment. But do let us cease from hypocrisy and pretence, and recognise that under existing conditions there is going to be creeping inflation and that the unfortunate rentier and pensioner is going to be progressively trimmed. My Lords, it is unlikely that the Motion will go to a Division, but I record my support for the Bill.

5.5 p.m.


My Lords, it is impossible to enter into an intelligent discussion of the Budget, or of the Finance Bill which gives legislative effect to those provisions which require legislation, except in the context of the economic situation in which we are. I am therefore not going to apologise for pursuing a little further the theme of inflation. It is only a few days ago, after all, that the Prime Minister, in the course of a speech, said: Can we control inflation? This is the problem of our time In that undoubtedly he is right. Inflation is destroying all rational management of economic affairs; it is creating the grossest inequalities as between one citizen and another. The noble Viscount who moved the Second Reading of this Bill delivered an impassioned defence of a very slight relief which is contained in it in favour of the surtax payer. I do not know why he was so modest about it. The limit at which surtax begins to operate—subject to that concession which does not amount to a great deal—is still £2,000 a year, just as it was before the war. The purchasing power of the pound is now 7s. as against 20s. If anyone had proposed before the war that surtax should begin to operate upon a level of income of £600 or £700 a year I think there would have been a terrific outcry. But it is now taken for granted, because people are unable to translate into concrete facts the results of the change in the purchasing power of money.

The noble Lord, Lord Barnby, has referred to allowances for depreciation with regard to business capital, plant and machinery. Why are the allowances insufficient? They are insufficient because they are based upon the original cost of the equipment, and by the time the manufacturer's plant has worn out, he has to replace it at a very much higher level of cost, and the provision which, theoretically, is sufficient, in practice is absolutely insufficient. The result is that every intelligently-run business has to try to save additional amounts, beyond the depreciation allowance, out of the profits of the business. If it does not do that, it will simply come to an end, because it will be unable to replace its capital. In order to do that, it has to save money out of taxed profits. These are some illustrations of the effect of the constant depreciation in the purchasing power of our currency. But there are a great many others.

Those who invest in Government securities, in debentures, in preference shares of companies, which were always regarded as the safest investments, are suffering a steady depreciation in the value of what they invest, with the result that other people are benefiting. If a debenture holder or a preference shareholder loses, the holder of ordinary shares benefits, quite unjustly and quite arbitrarily. As a result of the policy of allowing inflation to continue and to continue indefinitely, a process of confiscation from one section of the community for the benefit of other sections of the community is carried out, surreptitiously, without plan, without logic and without justice.

What is it that the Government propose in order to solve this problem. The Prime Minister, in the speech to which I have referred, said this: In the long run there is only one answer to the '64,000 dollar question '—to increase production. And the Chancellor of the Exchequer also, speaking only a few days ago, said that The best answer to the reduction of inflation was that we should all produce more. With all respect to these two gentleman, for whom in their private capacity I have the highest regard, I say that these statements are just nonsense. Inflation can continue even though production increases: the two things are only in a very indirect fashion related to one another. Inflation can exist whether production is falling or rising—it makes not the slightest difference. Inflation is the result, and the inevitable result, of expanding the circulation of money and credit.

This is no new thing. It has been seen throughout the history of economic affairs. When the Tudors debased the currency, when, during the French Revolution, assignats were issued ad lib from the printing press; when the United States printed "greenbacks"; when the Germans printed marks—all these had the same and inevitable result of depreciating the currency, leading to a constant increase of prices. Unless the Government are prepared to deal with that fundamental factor, it is ridiculous to talk about increasing production, restraint in application for increases of wages, restraint in dividend policy or anything else. The Government are possessed of ample weapons with which to deal with this matter. They are able to control the note issue. No increase in it can be made without the consent of the Commissioners of Her Majesty's Treasury. They are able to control the issue of Treasury Bills and other short-dated securities which form the basis for increased circulation of credit. They are able, through the Bank of England, which is now a national institution, to control the policy of the banks and to determine the amount of credit the banks may put into circulation. The means of dealing with the matter are in the hands of the Government, and in their hands alone; and it is quite misleading and quite false to try to shift the responsibility on to the general public and say that trade unionists or business men, or any other class, have the power to deal with this situation.

5.15 p.m.


My Lords, before my noble friend Lord Silkin rises to sum up the arguments against this Bill, may I be allowed to add my protest to that of the noble Lord, Lord Brocket, in regard to the clause in the Bill which reduces the National Land Fund to £10 million. I appreciate that at this stage there is no chance of getting the Government to alter this decision, but I think that it should be known that this matter has caused more dismay to all of us who have been engaged for many years in what is called the amenities movement than anything that has happened for a long time. This money was definitely allocated by Dr. Dalton, at the time when the Labour Government had accepted the policy of national parks, and it was put on one side, so to speak, in order to see that there might be effective financial backing for a system of national parks. These parks were, in fact, set up, but unfortunately their administration, so far as finance has been concerned, has from the beginning been in the hands of a Conservative Government, who have steadfastly refused to use this money.

It is all very well for the Government to tell us that since the £60 million has not been used, there is no harm in reducing the Fund to £10 million. But if that money had been effectively used, the whole of the national parks set-up would have been very much more effective than it is to-day. It has been hamstrung. It is a pity that the noble Lord who is Chairman of the National Parks Commission is not here at the moment, because I am sure he would confirm this. The set-up has been hamstrung by the refusal of the Government to give it effective financial backing. And this reduction of the Land Fund to £10 million is part of that policy. It shows how bankrupt the Conservative Government are in respect of this great plan. I am very glad to add my protest to that of the noble Lord, Lord Brocket.

5.18 p.m.


My Lords, although theoretically we are discussing the Finance Bill this afternoon, in actual practice, as we always do at this time of the year, we are discussing the financial position of the country. At this moment what is in our minds most of all is, naturally, the question of inflation. It is not at all surprising that most of the debate has been on that subject and that little has been said on the details of the Finance Bill. My noble friend Lord Pethick-Lawrence, in opening the discussion (I do not count "the curtain raiser" of the noble and learned Viscount) in his very fine speech, criticised the Government for complacency. I feel that he was fully justified in that criticism.

Your Lordships will recall one phrase which the Prime Minister used recently in a speech—that is, "You never had it so good." Whatever else he may have said, that sentence might well be taken out of its context, and it would give the impression that things are perfectly satisfactory, that we are all having a very good time, and that there is really nothing to worry about. Let me take that sentence and analyse it, to see what the Prime Minister really meant. "You never had it so good." To whom, was the Prime Minister saying that? Was he saying it to the whole population or to a certain section? I think it is true that there is a section of the people of this country today who "never had it so good." There are people who are making large capital gains out of "take-over" bids or in other ways—people who buy theatres for conversion into offices, or who in other ways are making, or hoping to make, large capital gains, and are spending freely out of those capital gains. There are people living on expense accounts; people who are able to pay £1,000 or £1,500 a year rent for a flat in the centre of London, and are willing, in addition, to pay a premium, and who, presumably, charge up a portion of their rent as expenses.

One of the problems of life, so far as I am concerned, is to ascertain exactly who are the people who are able to nay these large sums of money as rent for flats in the West End of London, and how they manage to do it. Any noble Lord who is seeking a flat with any comfort at all at the present time will find that he has to pay something like that sort of rent. There may be some noble Lords who can give an answer, but I have never been able to discover how it is done on the income which is supposed to be left after full and proper taxation has been paid. There are people who lunch daily at the Savoy or the Dorchester: if noble Lords go there they will find that these places are filled with people who not only lunch there themselves but entertain other people at the expense of the Government. There are the high-class stores, where large sums of money are being spent by women who, apparently, have no financial worries at all, and who are able to buy the most luxurious articles, presumably out of what is left to them after the payment of tax and surtax. Therefore, there must be a large amount of money that is spent not out of what is left after normal taxation but coming from some other source. If the noble and learned Viscount who is going to reply could get at the secret of where these people are able to find the money to spend so freely, I think he would have gone some way towards dealing with the question of inflation. I know a man in my locality who bought a house and is spending £50,000 on adapting it. He is certainly not doing it out of income. How does he do it? I should be delighted if the noble Viscount could put his finger on that kind of case, and see if he cannot prevent that kind of inflation. Those are the people who have "never had it so good".

But there is another section of the population who would not accept that statement people in quite a different category, who are looking forward with dread to a year next October when rent increases take place; people who are living on fixed incomes, just able to nay their rent to-day, and dreading what is going to happen when their rents are increased people who are just able to pay their day-to-day expenses, and to whom every additional shilling in Increased costs means deprivation of some necessity of life.

Then there are the wage-earners. We hear a lot about the "wickedness" of men going on strike. I wonder whether noble Lords ever consider how all this arises, and what really happens? Almost every week the housewife finds it more and more difficult to manage on the amount of money her husband is able to give her, and it is the pressure of the housewife which forces the husband to make demands for higher wages. The noble and learned Viscount spoke of some £800 million which was left in the pockets of the workers as the net increase in wages. I wonder whether, when he replies—I am trying not to be unnecessarily controversial—he can tell us if this £800 million in any way represents an increase in the standard of living of the workers, or whether it is merely catching up with the increase in the cost of living. I feel that if we are to get to the heart of the problem we have to answer these questions honestly and sincerely. It is no good blaming the workers for demanding increases in wages, which merely reflect increases in the cost of living, as if they are doing something wicked and deliberately seeking to harm the country.

It has been said that if only we could produce more that would help to solve our problems; and that greater production would justify higher wages. My noble friend Lord Douglas of Barloch disagrees. I am inclined to think that there is a good deal of truth in it, although I should not wish to be dogmatic about it. I am inclined to think that if we did produce more with the same amount of effort, it would result in a reduction in cost; and it would, at any rate, help us in our export trade. I think it must be advantageous to produce more goods with the same amount of effort and for the same wage. But is the policy of the Government to-day calculated to secure increased production? It is no good saying to the worker, "You work harder", or to the management, "You work harder". I suppose that everyone is capable of speeding up a little and increasing his effort, but the real way to increase production is by increased efficiency and by providing better equipment. That involves capital expenditure, and in most cases involves seeking to borrow money. The Government's policy of the credit squeeze prevents people from obtaining the money that is necessary in order to enable them to increase efficiency. There seems, therefore, a contradiction as between, on the one hand, asking for increased production and, on the other, the policy of the Government, which prevents it.

I agree with those noble Lords who have said that this is a matter which requires objective consideration. The question of inflation is so serious that I think none of us, on either side of the House, should be tied by outworn dogmas on the matter. It is wrong, on the one hand, to blame the worker for the difficulties in which we find ourselves, or, on the other, to blame the capitalist or the employer. I feel that we need to look at these problems with fresh eyes and fresh remedies. After all, this inflation has been going on for some time. Some noble Lords have said that we have been suffering, from inflation since the days of the Norman Conquest. That is true, in a sense, but that is not the kind of inflation which is worrying us to-day. We are talking of something, quite specific—the rapid depreciation in the value of the pound which has taken place over the last few years.

It is no part of my case this afternoon to put the blame on this Government, or any other Government. I believe that the Government's policy is mistaken, but honest and sincere; and I do not wish for a moment to say that they have deliberately adopted a policy which has led to this result—of course not. But I do think it needs fresh thinking. The credit squeeze, the high rate of interest, and the other things which the Government are doing, such as setting up a Council of Inquiry, are things which have been done before. The policy adopted by the Government for the last two or three years has not had the desired result. Nor is cutting down Government expenditure necessarily the answer, if it simply means transferring expenditure from the Government to the local authorities or to private individuals. It is misleading to reduce taxation if, as a result, you are going to increase the rates: the public pays just the same. It is equally misleading to cut down social services and to put the burden of the cost upon the ordinary member of the public: he pays just the same. The total national expenditure is not necessarily reduced by cutting down social services or by transferring the cost from one public body to another.

My plea, therefore, is that there should be some fresh thinking on this matter, and that we should have a new policy—something which we certainly have not got now, which certainly is not indicated in this Budget, and which there is no evidence the Government have in mind at the present time. Indeed, my criticism of the Government would be that of my noble friend Lord Pethick-Lawrence: that they have shown themselves to be too complacent, and that they certainly give the impression to the general public that everything is perfectly all right: that there is no need to worry because they "never had it so good."

5.33 p.m.


My Lords, to some extent I share the embarrassment of my noble friend Lord Brocket that, after this debate, the affairs of St. James's Theatre are about to engage your Lordships' attention. On the whole I would agree with him (although I suppose I should not) that the Finance Bill and a debate on economics deserves an afternoon and evening to itself. However, that was one of the factors in the situation which I had to take into account in introducing this Bill. I always regard myself, as long as I occupy this position, as simply the servant of the House, and I shall obviously take into account. or would desire to take into account, the wishes not merely of those noble Lords who have expressed an opinion but also of those noble Lords who have an opinion but have not this afternoon expressed one. Certainly when the Finance Bill comes up again next year I shall take into account what was said by the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, about the procedure to be followed.

But it is right that I should be honest with the House in this matter. At the moment, I am absolutely and entirely unrepentant: I am not wearing sackcloth and ashes. On the contrary, I think the debate which has taken place this afternoon entirely confirms my original judgment, which was fortified by that of one of the most experienced noble Lords who sit on the Benches opposite. It would, of course, be possible to introduce a Finance Bill into this House by describing the contents of the Bill—and, with his usual conservatism on matters not essentially Conservative, that was apparently the view of the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate. But my view of the matter was that I should be wasting the time of the House by such a course of action; and I still think so.

I could not help remarking that, precisely as I had expected, this Bill, which contains sixty-seven pages, over forty clauses and nine Schedules has not been referred to once in detail by any of the noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. This has essentially been a debate about inflation. I myself think that is what the debate should have been about, and that is why I am wholly unrepentant that I did not take up half an hour or more of your Lordships' time to begin with discussing the details of the Bill.


My Lords, the noble Viscount seems to forget that if a Parliamentary measure of importance, containing very important legislation, is introduced properly by the Minister responsible, he outlines the policy of the Government represented by that Bill; and then the Opposition have something to reply to and criticise. That the noble Viscount has failed to do.


I do not take that view at all. I did, under pressure from the noble Viscount—and because I am always anxious to treat myself in every way as the servant of the House—fasten on the two, as it seemed to me, important controversial parts of the Bill. I had to guide me, of course, only the kind of opposition with which it was treated in another place and out of doors. I fastened on the relief to surtax payers, which I defended, and I fastened on the balance between the £468 million surplus and the £100 million distributed by way of relief for taxation. I think I was right about that. It is true that the noble Lord, Lord Pethick-Lawrence, in the admirable speech with which he succeeded me, hastily disclaimed the antics of his Party in the country and in another place. I do not blame him for being ashamed of them.


The noble Viscount is quite entitled to poke fun at me, but I do not think he is quite entitled to misrepresent me to the extent he has done.


I think I was entirely accurate in my summary of the noble Lord's remarks. He was very anxious to disclaim the appropriateness of my remarks which were directed, I am bound to say, at those criticisms which, even after my experience of disunity in the Labour Party, I had anticipated would be put forward in your Lordships' House. His own views are, I have no doubt, far more responsible. Indeed, I congratulate the noble Lord in not having made the rather foolish points which were made by the leaders of the financial section of his Party in another place, and which have been made repeatedly by his Party machine in the country.


My Lords, is the noble Viscount coming shortly to discuss the Bill before the House?


I am going to answer the debate which has been put forward, a large part of which the noble Viscount has not heard. I propose with respect, and with the noble Viscount's permission, to answer the speeches of noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. I was at the moment congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Pethick-Lawrence on the speech to which we have had the pleasure of listening.

As I said, this has been in the main a debate about inflation, and since I have been rebuked by the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, for lecturing the Labour Party, it may be inappropriate for me to attempt anything like a long sermon on this subject. I do propose, however, to devote the great bulk of my remarks to it, and to fit, so far as I can, the remarks of noble Lords into the structure of this discussion. I myself would wholly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, when he said in his closing remarks that this is a subject that requires objective discussion. I do not myself believe that it is possible to divorce it from the sphere of Party controversy, much as I should desire to do so. There are sincere and deep divisions in British politics. If British politics do not continue to reflect sincere and deep divisions, they will cease to represent the opinion of the people; and because the main British Parties do, on the whole, represent the differences of opinion amongst the British people, they continue healthy and our Parliamentary democracy continues a healthy thing. I should not myself, therefore, expect to avoid Party controversy to some extent in a discussion. On the other hand, I welcome absolutely Lord Silkin's appeal for an objective discussion, because that will enable us to see the extent of our differences, and possibly even to see the way of solving the difficulties with which we are all faced, on whatever side of the House we sit.

I think it may be true that neither Party in the State comes very well out of the discussions in recent years. I suppose it is correct, viewing the matter dispassionately—as none of us can that, by and large, Governments are timid to proclaim the truth and Oppositions are mischievous in actively fomenting fallacy. At Elections each Party has, I think, tended to darken counsel by pretending that the Government could play a greater, and it may be a different, part in combating the evils of what is called inflation from what is possible or even desirable. It may be that the people themselves are not entirely free from blame, because in the end I think the people of a country tend to get the kind of political argument from both sides of the House which they deserve. I think I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Barnby, who said that there is a good deal of conscious or unconscious hypocrisy in the discussion of this matter. I am sure that noble Lords this afternoon have done a great deal, by applying their minds to the problems, to dissolve that hypocrisy. I would myself even suggest that the word "inflation" is, in some respects, responsible for the evil. We all use the word; we all agree that it is a naughty word, but in fact we use it to distinguish different and distinct, though sometimes associated. sets of economic facts, some good, some inevitable, some bad and some avoidable.

Whatever Governments come and go, I cannot resist the inference that we are living in a high cost economy. And I do not ignore (nor do I think the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, was quite right to brush aside the reference of two other noble Lords to the fact) that, historically, inflation has been continuous from very early times. The noble Lord, Lord Brocket, dated it from the Norman Conquest. I have heard people date it from the Egyptian civilisation, and prove their case. Lord Douglas of Barloch was slightly less historical and went back to the Tudors. But I myself do not think that that is at all an unwise comparison. Even in my own lifetime, which stretches for nearly half a century, I can remember the time when eggs were 10d. a dozen, the Daily Mail a halfpenny and agricultural wages less than £1 a week. Since then prices have risen, not quite steadily and not quite consistently, but I think inexorably.

Whatever the evils of inflation may be, the state of the economy is that it is a high cost economy, and I am not by any means sure that this is necessarily a bad thing. I say that quite deliberately. Certainly our attempts to reduce prices between the wars, which had some measure of success, achieved results not universally popular, as the noble Viscount opposite reminded us. I cannot help noticing that, despite all the alleged evils of inflation, neither Party has, in fact, attempted to reproduce those results. I do not believe that anyone can become richer by making everybody poorer, even if it does enhance the value of money. That appears to be the underlying fallacy in the views of a good many people who ask that prices should come tumbling down. If this is complacency I am one of the complacent.

I would reiterate and support the statement out of doors by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, that people have "never had it so good." The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, in a speech which was in parts more helpful than the part I am now referring to, and possibly less meretricious, drew an elaborate picture of people with vast capital gains living, in the Savoy on expense accounts as people who had "never had it so good" But I would tell the noble Lord, since he asked, where I look for my support for the Prime Minister in his statement. I do not look to elaborate Treasury accounts or purely fiscal considerations. I ask myself, first of all: has the health of this country even been so good? I am not talking about the spiritual condition of the country; nor, in a Finance Bill, would it be desirable that I should. I ask about material things; has the health ever been so good? Has infant mortality ever been so low; Has consumption of milk and butter and meat ever been so high? We know these things have reached an all-time "high." A man has only one belly to feed. It is not the man living in the Savoy on an expense account who affects the vital statistics of the nation.

The noble Lord, Lord Barnby, said that there was a good deal of conscious or unconscious hypocrisy in discussing inflation. I seriously ask Lord Silkin if, on reflection, he really thinks it was a fair discussion of the Prime Minister's observation, be it right or wrong, to introduce the story of the capital gains and expense accounts in the Savoy. The truth is that people have never "had it so good." There never has been a time when children have enjoyed such good education, such good health services; when there has been so much evidence of prosperity everywhere we go; where the clothes have been so solid or the diet so rich and varied. That is what we mean by saying that they have "never had it so good." And it is a fact; and we are not ashamed of it. If this is complacency, I am one of the most complacent men in the world. I am glad of it and proud of it. I go on to assert that 999 people out of 1,000 who have ever lived on this planet would have given their eyes to live in a situation such as that which we are enjoying now. Anybody who tries to pretend the contrary is indulging in self-deception or hypocrisy.

I cannot complain of any part of this. A great deal is now said about the desir ability of restoring the value of money or bringing down prices. The very people who make these remarks are the same who demand full employment, higher pensions, more roads, support prices for agriculture, a free Health Service, expanding education, and adequate investments in the railways and nuclear power. All this is very impressive; and how lustily everybody cheers, at least so long as they remain on the Back. Benches, when these improving sentiments are voiced! But does all this add up to a policy? Or is it simply another way of saying that in a democracy it is hard to persuade anyone, including politicians, that you cannot eat your cake and have it. At all events, whilst I should be the last to encourage run-away inflation, I have never, in office or out, given any encouragement to those who believe that prices can come tumbling down at the behest of a Government; or, if they could, that the Government ought to tumble them.


No one on this side, to my knowledge has asked—certainly I have never asked—that prices should come down. I have asked that they should be stopped from going up, which is quite a different thing. I think the noble Viscount is entirely confusing two utterly separate things.


I do not think it is a different thing to say that you think prices ought to be stopped going up from saying you think they ought to come down: they are different degrees of the same process. I am wholly at one with the noble Lord, if may say so, and, as I was about to say, in thinking that the fact that we are living permanently, or semi-permanently, in a high cost economy only makes it the more imperative to stop prices going up if we can and to the extent we properly can.

I was about to discuss the circumstances in which that could be done. At any rate, I would say this in parenthesis. The noble Lord quite rightly interrupted me at that point, but I should like to make the point I was immediately going to make at this stage. It is also worth saying that high prices are not in themselves necessarily inflationary. I would justify this by pointing out how very much worse it would have been if the recent price increases had not taken place. Suppose we had not put up the Post Office charges and had allowed it to go on running at the deficit caused by spending more money on wages; suppose the nationalised industries had not put up the price of steel and coal and had run at a loss, spending money on wages and at the same time not getting it back in the form of increased prices, could anything be more inflationary than that? I do not accept the view that the price increase in itself—I am sure the noble Lord has deep knowledge of such things—is necessarily the evil we are attacking.

I would say this: that of course there are serious consequences for Governments in such a state of affairs. In the first place, as the noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Barloch, reminded us, people with fixed incomes suffer, people who invested in debentures suffer and pensioners suffer. This is so whether or not production keeps on rising in step with wages, dividends and salaries. I would agree with the noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Barloch, that, to that extent, at any rate, an inflation can go on irrespective of an increase in production. But, because the word "inflation" in that context is used in a different sense from that in which it is sometimes used, I would disagree with him in the inferences he drew.

Of course, this high-price economy means that the fixed income groups—and they are many—become vulnerable and the under-privileged classes for whom it is necessary to do something in order to counteract the evils of high costs. The difficulty is that, in the main, the remedial measures most popularly advocated add to the cost inflation already taking place. It follows from this that the remedial measures themselves ought to have built into them some self-financing provisions which increase in yield in step with higher production. That having been said, it is right for me to say that both Parties are thinking on these lines. It is obviously the aim of both Parties to devise a pensions scheme which contains some safeguard against this danger. I have no doubt that this was one of the objectives of the Labour Party scheme but I have no doubt myself that it fails and that the net result would be highly inflationary.

The next thing—and, despite what the noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Barloch, said, I say this with great confidence and I am supported in it by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin—is to make quite sure of increased production. Obviously, an increase in wages—


I do not say that increased production is not a highly desirable thing. I say that it is something which is separate from inflation. You can still have inflation with increased production.


I have already told the noble Lord the extent to which I agree with that sentiment. I am now going to tell him, with equal respect, I hope, to his argument, the extent to which I disagree with it. Obviously, an increase in wages without an increase in production can only have a really serious effect on the value of money. It is precisely for that reason that I should prefer the view of the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, to that of the noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Barloch, when he said, again in the hearing of the House, that the two questions were in fact quite separate. I do not agree that they are. Nor do I think there is the smallest possible value in the suggestion that the Government should, apparently, exercise the power they have to control the note issue. I wonder what would happen if we controlled the note issue just after there had been a rise in wages. It seems to me to be a suggestion which would lead to evils far worse than anything we have yet experienced and which would result in a far greater diminution in the value of money and in a far greater and much more serious undermining of confidence.

I come here to something which again may be called complacent, but I am bound to tell your Lordships what I think about it. I am perfectly certain that we are, in fact, on the verge of a considerable boom in production—that is, unless, before it can take effect, we price ourselves out of the market under the slaphappy dictatorship of some of our more irresponsible people, not in Parliament. Certainly we have increased our productive capacity during the past eighteen months, I explained in an earlier debate how this was the explanation of the apparent and alleged stagnation of an industrial index last year. We were, in fact, switching our manpower and materials from production for consumption to the production of production capacity. It is this fact which I believe to have been under-estimated in recent alarmist speeches and articles. I venture to say that it was precisely this fact which the noble Lord, Lord Pethick-Lawrence, under-estimated in his gloomy comparisons with Germany.

The "64,000-dollar question" for a free society revolves round its investment programme. I was glad that the noble Lord, Lord Brocket, agreed with me that this was the heart of the matter. As I listened to the various speeches of noble Lords, I came to the conclusion that this, at least, was something about which most of us could find ourselves in agreement. The nature of the criticisms of Government policy showed how very near to the heart of the matter the investment programme is. Of course, a dictatorship manages its investment policy by restraining consumption forcibly and by exiling the advocates of reckless consumption to the Russian equivalent of the Battersea Power Station, and imposing the most rigorous controls both on production and on prices. But can such a system work here? Speaking for myself, if I had to choose between freedom and inflation, I should still instinctively choose freedom. But, of course, the choice is unreal. A galloping inflation, as the noble Lord, Lord Pethick-Lawrence, has reminded us, undermines the foundations of democracy. It does so by demoralising the people in the literal and most dangerous sense of the word and by destroying the people's faith, not merely in their currency, which is bad enough, but in their system of government, which is calamitous. This was part of the history of the Weimar Republic. Here I differ from the noble Lord who drew this conclusion from his recollections of that Republic. I do not think we are in danger of an inflation on those grounds.

Again. I draw attention to the differences of senses in which we use the word. With production and investment at existing levels, inflation can be, and is, hurtful and inconvenient, but it can, I should hope, never take charge to that extent in the absence of some international disaster beyond our own control. I would accept from the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, his own comment on the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Pethick-Lawrence, which was to the effect that in the economy of Germany at that time there was an element which I think one can say at this distance of time could be described as an element of deliberate financial dishonesty, and which I hope we shall never have here under whatever Government is in power. So I do not think that that is a real danger here.

The need for investment has, of course, been met with a large increase of investments. In the last five years we have, in fact, been moving strongly from a low-investment economy to a high-investment economy. In 1956 fixed investment totalled over £3,000 million, a real increase of 33⅓per cent. over the total for 1951. As the result of policies pursued by the Government, it has been possible in 1956 to increase investment so that it now amounts to 16 per cent. of the gross national product. It has levelled out at this figure. The trouble is that, whilst investment is absolutely necessary if a free society is to enjoy full employment and a rising standard of living, there is nothing more directly inflationary, in one sense of the word, than long-term investment. That, I think, is the answer to many of the criticisms which have been levelled at Government policy.

Several noble Lords—the noble Lords, Lord Pethick-Lawrence, and Lord Brocket—complained, for instance, of the dear money policy. The dear money policy has been the policy of the Government throughout its term of office, to control the economy as far as possible. I should be the last to pretend that, by itself, it can achieve the whole object of the exercise; but if one accepts that, in order to restrain inflation within reasonable levels, it is necessary to put some brake upon investment when we are moving into a high-investment economy, it is necessary, I think, to restrict the quantity of money. It is a consequence of the reduction in the supply of money that the price of money—in other words, the rate of interest—should rise. Whilst myself not wishing to claim too much for the effectiveness of our monetary policy, I think we can claim that there has been a marked improvement in the present economic situation when compared with the condition of excess moneys in 1955. There is now a relatively favourable balance of payments; the acute labour shortage is at an end, and the rate of increase of prices has moderated; and that, I think, is the justification of the policy which we have been pursuing. Investment is, of course, directly inflationary, although it is also highly desirable, and some moderation upon the total quantity of investment is. I think, essential in the present situation.


If the noble Viscount thinks that the policy of dear money has been a success, I venture to think that he is one of the very few people to take that view.


I do not know whether that is the kind of comment which is intended to be helpful. At any rate, I am aware that I am dealing with it in a succinct manner and that I have not exhausted the subject. I am putting forward the Government's answer to the noble Lord's speech, which it is my duty to do. I should have devoted much more attention to this subject had it been the only subject which noble Lords had raised by way of discussion.

It is in the same way that I find myself compelled to criticise my noble friend Lord Brocket, who adheres to Mr. Glad-stone's doctrine that the only thing you have to do in order to quell inflation is to allow money to fructify in the pockets in the people. I cannot take that view. Investment is not only desirable in the private sector. We need new roads—we are constantly being pressed in this House for new roads. That is investment, and the money must come out of public money. We cannot let that money fructify in the pockets of the people and so deprive ourselves of a modern system of transport. We need new nuclear power stations, which have to come out of public money to some extent, and we need new schools. We need dozens of things which have to be provided out of public money, and I am simply unable to follow the argument which suggests that Government expenditure is of its nature inflationary and that private expenditure is of its nature not inflationary. My own view is that any activity which increases the quantity of money as against the quantity of goods is, strictly speaking, inflationary. There is nothing more inflationary than investment, and very few things more desirable. It only goes to show the extent to which such things are intractable. So far as I am concerned, I would say that the dear money policy is logical and that it affords an improvement. That does not deal with the whole situation—obviously not; otherwise we should not be discussing this matter to-day.

Now, my Lords, in connection with investment the noble Lord, Lord Barnby, made two points in regard to which he asked for an explanation and of which he had given me short notice. Again, I hope he will not complain if I give him a somewhat short answer in what is, necessarily, a somewhat protracted speech. The noble Lord, Lord Barnby, was interested in what he regarded as the contrast between Government policy on borrowings by local authorities and on the financing of nationalised industries. He referred, in particular, to the change introduced by my right honourable friend Mr. Butler in the autumn Budget of 1955. by which local authorities, who hitherto had been able to borrow from the Government through the Public Works Loan Board for all approved expenditure, were to be expected in future to raise their capital in the general market, so far as possible. He referred, secondly, to the change introduced by the present Prime Minister in the Budget of 1956 and embodied in Section 42 of the Finance Act, 1956, under which the nationalised industries, who had until then raised capital by issues of stock on the market under Government guarantee, were authorised to borrow instead from the Exchequer within the limit of £700 million and up to March 31, 1958.

I think that the contrast is not an inconsistency, and that it is more apparent than real. The main ground of the first change relating to local authorities is that it was thought reasonable that local authorities should try, as far as possible, to match their requirements against loans forthcoming from private lenders rather than by drawing on the Government, which would have meant an increase in the floating debt. The result of this change of policy was very marked and, from that point of view, successful. Borrowing by local authorities from the Public Works Loan Board fell from £364 million in 1955–6 to £121 million in 1956–7.

The second change of policy was of rather a different kind. The Government guaranteed stocks which the nationalised industries had been issuing, and these stocks, unfortunately, had by no means been fully taken up by private lenders. The present Prime Minister explained that these stocks had to be supported by the Exchequer in so far as they were not purchased for private ownership, and in the month before the Budget of 1956 this support had been substantial and prolonged. The effect of the change was that the Government began to provide finance directly, where before it provided finance indirectly, for a considerable part of the same need.

In the Finance Bill debate last summer, the present Prime Minister said that the only effect of the new policy was to make a technical change in the method of borrowing, and it cannot be maintained that the Government have taken on a wholly new commitment for the nationalised industries in exchange for a greatly reduced commitment to the local authorities. The reduced rate of Government borrowing by local authorities, is, in our view, a real gain from the Exchequer's point of view and the commitment in respect of the nationalised industries must be seen against the previous position in relation to the support for guaranteed stock issues.

My Lords, the question has been raised by the noble Viscount Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, as to whether, within the somewhat modest limits of possibility in a free society, a system of price control, subsidies and physical controls can offer a significant contribution to solving our difficulties without destroying the very system of freedom which it is intended to defend. Of course, we shall all agree that price control and subsidy did very well during the war, and for some time after it. But there were three important factors present then which are not present now. In the first place, there was not merely a shortage but a cast-iron top limit to the quantity of goods available from import and manufacture. This rendered the black market somewhat simple to control. Secondly, rationing of commodities was an essential feature of the scheme; and as each person, by and large, had a right to delivery of his whole ration, "under the counter" buying became limited in scope. Thirdly—to this I attach the greatest importance—public opinion was behind the policing of the scheme. I myself do not believe that public opinion would tolerate such large-scale policing to-day. The quality of goods available to-day is indefinite and above the level at which rationing would be either effective or desirable. In the result, it is my view that a system of price control, and physical control, would be deeply corrupting, inefficacious and unsupported by public opinion. Incidentally, it would have the effect of creating a black market and not of controlling prices.

I do not myself accept the view that physical controls on building, would, on the whole, offer a statistically significant contribution to solving the problem of inflation. Like many others, I should have liked to see many more hospitals and schools erected since the war, but I do not take the view of some people, that office blocks are luxury buildings; on the contrary, I regard good office accommodation as part of the legitimate capital investment of industry and commerce. I believe that any New Yorker would tell doubters that it pays for itself many times over. If we have a heavy increase in the number of motor vehicles on the road we must have a number of new garages, although I notice that new garages are sometimes attacked as luxury buildings. Then, although we see frequent references to new cinemas, I know of hardly anyone building new cinemas except in the new towns, where new cinemas are, at any rate in my view, a social necessity.

I turn now to the question of Government expenditure. Here I would share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, that sometimes a too-savage attack is made upon Government expenditure. Of course, there is always an attack on Government expenditure whenever there is an alarm about inflation. I regard such attacks as reasonable, for Government expenditure is paid for by forcibly removing purchasing power from the people. I am not one of those who would object when it comes under scrutiny; but precisely because it comes under scrutiny at every such time I am not one of the optimists who believe that a great deal more can be got out of it. Frankly, I am not, for instance, prepared to risk national security by cutting defence expenditure any more drastically in the present international context; nor am I prepared to see standards of education sacrificed just at the very moment when our campaign to make people realise the requirements of the situation is beginning to show signs of success. Pensions are likely to cost more rather than less. I am not prepared to see the public interest damaged simply because public expenditure is a sector of finance more directly under the control of Parliament than any other.

Here I come to what I regard as the truth. I believe that it can be stated in a sentence or two. I believe that everybody knows it, although there is a lamentable disinclination to face its consequence. I believe it is true that the present inflation is, in fact, due to rises in wages and salaries in the last year unaccompanied by a corresponding rise in production. I am not prepared to take the view suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, that there is any statistical evidence whatever to suggest that any rise in prices has been a direct cause of that pressure. The amount was, as I said in opening, £900 million over twelve months, without a corresponding increase in production, of which £800 million remained after taxation. It was not due to Government spending. It was not due to an increase in profits or dividends. The increase in dividends was of the order of 3 per cent. compared with (I believe) about 9 per cent. in wages—or about £25 million, as compared with £800 million after taxation. We shall not cure inflation by attacking profits or dividends nor by soaking the allegedly rich—that is, the 250,000 people who earn more than £2,000 a year, valued, as the noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Barloch, reminded us, at about 7s. in the pound according to pre-war standards. They have already been soaked and it would make no significant contribution whatever to the problem to increase the punitive rates of taxation to which they are already subject.

We can cure a disease only by facing the cause of it. The cause is not high prices, although prices are high. It is not high taxation, though taxes are high. It is not high Government expenditure, though Government expenditure is high. It is not profits or dividends. The cause lies in the figure which I have mentioned—£900 million, or £800 million, if one allows for taxation. This leads me to say something on the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Silkin. Personally, I should declare myself a friend of a philosophy of high wages, and I do not desire to adopt any other philosophy in this matter. I do so for three reasons: first, because an increase in production ought to reflect itself in a higher real wage. Such a higher real wage is not inflationary but is a just reward for labour. Secondly, production will be increased, rather than diminished, by rising labour costs, provided that the quantity of production keeps step. I have no doubt whatever that there is no greater spur to that modernisation of plant and production methods which we ought all to desire than rising labour costs. It is a discouragement, not an encouragement, to management to look to the attitudes and mentality of the nineteenth century to cure twentieth century problems.

But the higher the wages are, the more necessary it becomes to examine the question whether the timing and rate of rise is or is not, on the whole, advantageous to the workers' standard of living. It is here that I come to some recent statements out of doors, by a trade union leader who has been widely reported. I am bound to say that he has not, so far, thought it expedient to bear the burden of Parliamentary responsibility. At times he seems to give the impression of seeking to dictate to Parliament without being prepared to listen to Parliamentary criticism or advice or to submit to Parliamentary discipline. I can only see in such a state of affairs very grave disadvantages. This leader tells us that the workers in his union are prepared to defend their standard of life. So they should be. But when it can be shown objectively that £800 million unrelated to productive increases is the cause of the threat to their standard of life it does not make much sense to talk of the absence of restraint.

I am not going to suggest—and I do not suggest—that demands for higher wages are unreasonable. I was glad to notice that the noble Lord, Lord Pethick-Lawrence, in his speech, which I have repeatedly praised from my own point of view, said, as I understood him, that it was wholly wrong to demand a total absence of restraint in respect of increased wages without any limit at all. But is he not aware that the trade union leader to whom I was referring has set down a motion to the Trades Union Congress demanding that, in almost the wordsin which the noble Lord denounced it?


My Lords, I should like to see that.


The noble Viscount can see it printed in the Press. That leader said there should be no restraint without controls. On this I would make two comments. The first is that the offer means precisely nothing. It is said that Her Majesty's Government must first control profits, building and dividends by law. Then, it is said, "We shall graciously consider whether we shall be pleased, not to submit to controls, for that would never do, but to moderate our own demands in accordance, not with the public interest, nor even with the interest of our own members, but with what we graciously see fit to ask for under threat of industrial action." I do not believe that this is the language of democracy. We have to hammer out in Parliament the problem of inflation, and we in Parliament are not going to be dictated to from outside as to what our solution should be.

I would only add that we on this side of the House have been accused of complacency. If that means that we are less sure than some noble Lords have seemed to be, in the course of this debate, that we are in for uncontrolled inflation, then it is true; for we do not believe that inflation on that scale is imminent, and it is right that we should say so. If it means that we underestimate the complexity or intractability of the problem, then I believe the charge to be wrong. We welcome, and shall welcome, criticisms from all parts of the House which have been levelled at us this afternoon. We shall consider them most carefully, and I believe that by debates of this kind, and by viewing the problem in an objective way—though not without an invigorating element of controversy—we shall, before long, turn our difficulties into a record of achievement.

On Question, Bill read 2a: Committee negatived.

Then, Standing Order No. 41 having been suspended (pursuant to the Resolution of July 15), Bill read 3a, and passed.