§ 2.39 p.m.
§ Debate resumed (according to Order) on the Motion moved yesterday by Earl Jellicoe—namely, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty as follows:—
"Most Gracious Sovereign—We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the most gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament."
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
My Lords, in opening this general debate on the Address, I should like to say how much my colleagues and I desire to associate ourselves with the tributes made yesterday by the mover of the loyal Address and by the Leader of the House to the great industry, and the effectiveness of that industry, shown by Her Majesty, not only at home in many visits, but through the Commonwealth and, indeed, in one or two foreign visits, and also by His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh. I would particularly mention the interest with which the country has watched the work and visits of Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother, in Australia and of Princess Margaret in the West Indies and Canada. These are not matters for anything but the united feeling in the nation of how much we owe to the great advantage of a constitutional Monarchy.
33 The delivering of the gracious Speech from the Throne yesterday in the full light of television for the first time and which, therefore, has been broadcast in sound and in vision here and all over the world, was a remarkable occasion. I hope I may be forgiven for saying that, while I am quite sure the general decision which was arrived at, I think, with the consent of all Parties in the State will do a great deal of good, it should not be forgotten that when this matter was spoken about previously we had to lay some stress upon the constitutional position. I have no doubt that Her Majesty's Ministers, as well as members of the Opposition, will perhaps from time to time draw the attention of those who seem to build so much upon radio and television as a means of obtaining information to the fact that the gracious Speech is, of course, a matter ultimately for the responsibility of Her Majesty's Government for submission to the Members of both Houses. I say that in no cavilling spirit at all. I think it is part of the continuing education which is required for the public here and overseas as to our true constitutional position, now that these volatile means of spreading information abroad are at our disposal.
With regard to the contents of the gracious Speech, I have been wondering—and later on I am sure the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, will tell us—whether this is or is not the last gracious Speech during the lifetime of the present Government. I notice that the noble Viscount takes the point and that he will probably give us some interesting information. I have difficulty certainly, upon the structure and context of the speech, in drawing any definite conclusions. Nevertheless there are sufficient paragraphs in it, I think, which indicate that it may well be the last one before an actual appeal to the country for the renewal of our Parliamentary authority from the people.
I do not propose to refer at any length to the references to the foreign situation. I welcome the general promise, if I may put it so, of the Government to support the United Nations in every possible way and to do their best to maintain peace and stability in the world. I think it is a pity that we should have anything like a controversial debate on foreign affairs at the moment, because Her Majesty's Government, as they say in the gracious 34 Speech, have made an arrangement for a conference which opens on Friday next which may be of very considerable importance. I hope that we may be able to avoid anything in the nature of references which would in any way damage the prospects of such an important conference as that.
The situation in the Middle East has, by its very latest events, brought a good deal of relief to the minds and hearts of the mothers, fathers and homes of the men who have been on the two expeditions recently in the Middle East, and I very much hope that we may have such a change of events in Cyprus as will bring the same sort of joy and good feeling in our parents' minds and hearts over the situation in that island. It may well be that in a few weeks' time, when we can see a little more clearly what is going on, the Opposition will wish to put down a specific day for the discussion of the general international situation. We are rather worried about the rather ridiculous position that has arrived in the Far East—a very curious situation. If any statement is going to be made by the Government in response to any of the speeches which may be made in your Lordships' House on the foreign situation, a word or two as to their actual view of the present situation there might be helpful. We should like to know what they really think about it. Those of us who can only rely upon what we read in the newspapers from time to time find it a little difficult to understand. I am, however, very convinced in my own mind—and I am sure that here I speak for my colleagues—that the sooner the real de facto situation in China is recognised de jure by all the nations concerned, and the sooner the present Government there is admitted to the United Nations Organisation the more quickly shall we be able to dispose of some of the difficulties that exist there al the present time.
With regard to Cyprus, I hope that the Leader of the House may find it convenient that when (as I hope he has been able to arrange—I know that he intended to do so) we have a debate generally upon the Commonwealth after his statement on Tuesday next, the debate may be wide enough to allow any noble Lord who wishes to discuss Cyprus to do so then. I hope that that would fall in with his 35 wishes and with the general wishes of the House. I would only say now, as I probably shall not be speaking in that debate, that I feel that the Government have missed an opportunity of making some further progress in the case of Cyprus by rejecting, as it were, out of hand the offer reported to have been made by Archbishop Makarios, an offer which seemed to us, at any rate, to indicate that he would be willing to forgo altogether, or certainly for a long period, the general position they adopt with regard to Enosis. Of course it is advisable that we should wait to hear from Her Majesty's Government exactly why the decision on that point was taken and what they think of the present situation to-day. I am quite sure of this: that the whole country would welcome some means of settlement which would remove this terrible, continuous and agonising bloodshed in that comparatively small island and bring to an end the sort of job which has, of necessity, now to be given to our troops to carry out—a job so distasteful for them, but one that I think they are doing their best to carry out on a proper and decent military basis. I feel that the country at large would like to see that situation brought to an end.
As to the situation in the Commonwealth, I do not propose to say very much about that matter to-day. I welcomed what was said by the mover of the humble Address yesterday with regard to our situation in relation to the Commonwealth. The interest in this matter is not confined to a particular Party or Parties; this desire to get more and more progress in the development and the self-government of the countries in the Commonwealth and to help with whatever economic aid we possibly can in that connection, is a national one. My colleagues who will be speaking on Tuesday will no doubt have criticisms to make with regard to the effort which has so far been made in aiding Colonial development and the proposal of the Government, which as I understand it is to bring in special measures—if that is not so perhaps the noble Leader of the House will in due course tell us—to assist in the financial side of Colonial development. The Government should certainly be ready next Tuesday to answer criticism from this side of the House on those particular matters.
36 Before departing altogether from the general situation abroad and in the Commonwealth I should like to say a word about what is lacking altogether in the gracious Speech—namely, a reference to defence. I welcome the reference to that matter in the speech of the noble and gallant Earl, Lord Jellicoe, yesterday. He did not make a long reference to it, but it was a most important one. Like myself, he likes to feel that we have possession of a deterrent, but he pointed out the great necessity for two things. First, he pointed to the need for having adequate conventional forces, and secondly, in another point in his speech, which was I thought a most valuable one, he made reference to the great advantage there could be in a greater and further development of consultation between the partners of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation or similar alliances to which we may be party. I thoroughly agree with that.
On the other hand, I noticed in the London Times on Saturday a report of an address given by the noble and gallant Viscount, Field-Marshal Lord Montgomery of Alamein, in which he referred to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, saying:It is complicated, cumbersome and grossly over-staffed. There is an enormous waste of money and effort. It takes far too long to get anything done because of the interminable arguments about unimportant details that go on in the committees of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation Councils, which number over 100.Apparently, he considers that there should be an immediate overhaul of the Organisation. I ought not to go on quoting long extracts from his address, but I think that that is either a statement which reveals a serious situation or one which is not wholly justified.
In view of the importance which must be attached to the effect of those words by every single constituent member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, I think it is a matter of urgency that the Government should tell us one or two things right away. First of all, has this state of affairs (if this is the state of affairs in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) been regularly reported by the noble and gallant Field-Marshal in the last more than seven years?—it is just over seven years that the Government have been in office. If the report has been made, what has been done about 37 it? What is the true position with regard to it? I think it is really fundamental, in view of the wide publicity which was given to this statement over the week-end, that the Government should make the position clear and should let us know exactly what is their view about it. If there is a state of anxiety about it, let us know what they are going to do, if nothing has been done up to the present time about it.
I would also say that, as I have been so personally interested in the shape of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation from the date in 1947 when with the late Mr. Ernest Bevin I signed the Treaty of Dunkirk, I hope that nothing will be done which will any way injure the ultimate effectiveness of the Organisation without which we in this country would, in my view, be in a most serious position. We need that Treaty Organisation very badly, and I hope that we shall go on doing all that we can to support it to the full extent of our available resources.
When one comes to what is mentioned in the gracious Speech in regard to the home situation there is a great deal more to talk about to-day. The Opposition will propose an Amendment to the loyal Address which we hope will be taken next Wednesday and Thursday, with regard to certain aspects of the home situation covering among other things the economic position and calling attention to the stagnation in. particular industries. My noble friends who will be opening the discussion on the two days which we hope will be available for the debate will speak in some detail to these matters. It appears to many people who are not of like mind with noble Lords opposite that there is at present far too great a degree of complacency on the part of the Government and their supporters—or so it appeared from my reading of the reports of their Party Conference at Blackpool. I think that in many ways the situation is most disturbing. I consider that the general charge can be brought that, however much the improved position on the financial side with regard to our balance of payments has been effected by the controls which the Government brought in, nevertheless the type of controls that they use are not sufficient to be able to achieve the objective and at the same time keep industry at its proper state of healthy production and of full employment.
38 The present situation is disturbing because we seem to have fallen behind compared to other countries in regard to industry. I do not want to go into detail on that matter; I shall leave that to my colleagues to deal with. But, broadly speaking, I can say that we had a period from 1945 to 1951 in which, on the average, our production rose by 7 per cent. per annum, and that for the first few years of the present Government's period of administration the rise was on a reduced average of about 3½ per cent. But in this current year so far we are actually 4 per cent. below last year's production. That is a general picture of the situation as I see it; and that, of course, brings other things in train.
I do not disagree with members of Parties in politics to-day who would deprecate overstressing the figures of unemployment until we can be absolutely sure that we are going headlong into such a state of employment collapse as would bring disaster to a much larger number of people. On the other hand, one is bound to point to the fact that this state of production to which I have referred—a condition which has been considerably affected by the economic controls of Her Majesty's Government—has nevertheless created a grave problem in a large number of homes. One cannot take away the anxiety and the increasing difficulties of people in those homes by passing it off in ordinary language and saying, "Oh well, there are only 478,000." That in itself is a very large figure although the percentage may not be more than about 2.2.
Let us look at the gracious Speech from the Throne. I would point out to the noble Scot who leads this House the paucity of reference in it to Scotland. There is, of course, mention of a Bill to conserve red deer; but the state of employment in Scotland was well illustrated in a recent speech in this House by the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, speaking for his own locality of Dundee before he had taken the office on which we congratulate him and in which we wish him well. In Scotland the position in many localities has reached a point which is quite serious, and I should hope that we might have something in the gracious Speech rather better than the paragraph which says:My Ministers are resolved to ensure the strength of sterling, at home and abroad and 39 a high and stable level of employment. In co-operation with the Commonwealth, they will seek to expand our oversea trade both in Europe, by the creation of a Free Trade Area, and throughout the world.That is a very poor kind of encouragement at the present moment to those who are living in homes affected by unemployment and to those public authorities in the areas which are especially affected—those in these pockets of very high unemployment.
I noticed that the mover of the Motion of thanks for the gracious Speech in the other place comes from North Wales and there is there quite a serious problem of unemployment. Then, reading the Economist two or three weeks ago I was rather concerned to see that they would regard a total of between 600,000 and 700,000 as being not too bad a figure to have to face. I hope I am not misinterpreting them; I am speaking from memory. I should have thought that if Her Majesty's Government were prepared to amend the view, as expressed in the gracious Speech from the Throne, from having a high level of employment to peak and full employment and really meant that, we should give a great deal of comfort to those who are in anxiety at the present moment in regard to employment. But things have gone in a certain way, so that it seems to have become fixed in the minds of many of us that the economic measures of Her Majesty's Government have not been unconnected with correcting a position described by some people as one of "over-employment". In fact to-day we not only suffer from those who are actually wholly unemployed but are also suffering from an increasing number of those who are only partly employed, and a much wider number of those in the working class who, instead of being able to meet their post-war financial costs by working full-time at good wages, are actually working short-time—organised short-time—the reduction in their spending power being reflected, of course, in the general state of the home market.
I hope that when we come to a more detailed debate of this matter on Wednesday and Thursday next Her Majesty's Government may be able to give us some better assurance of what they mean and at what they are aiming —and what they mean by a "high and 40 stable level of employment". Or do they really mean by that phrase that they do not intend to have full employment at all? I am quite sure that my right honourable friends will call to their aid (I am not going to do so today) the actual facts and figures from various industries in the country nearly all of whom show difficulties at the present time, an exception being the motor industry of whose success we are all glad to know and for which we are thankful.
Then I should like to direct attention to another part of home industry which was mentioned yesterday by the seconder of the motion on the loyal Address, the industry of agriculture. I believe that in anything we might say about agriculture at the moment we should be quite entitled to say that we were drawing attention to the plight of agriculture; for that industry is in a plight and a very difficult situation. I am a farmer. Evidently, from the discussion and speeches at meetings attended by the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture, which I have seen reported, I am not considered to be a small farmer; but I am only a little removed from a small farmer. I will speak of my own experience.
In the last few weeks we have had the tremendous electrical storms and great crop damage, and the soil left in such a state that it was quite impossible to put heavy harvesting machines in some fields. Where that was tried, one had to send for heavy equipment to haul them out over and over again; and on my own farm even this week we are still bringing corn in by improvised methods. We are cutting it with a high mower, putting it on a tractor trailer, taking it straight into the yard and putting it through the combine threshing machinery there. Thai enables me to speak from the point of view of a much wider area of agriculture where the results of this harvest have been quite disastrous.
In the middle of all this, apparently, we have no special hope, from the gracious Speech from the Throne, that anything is to be done at the present time to encourage agriculture as a whole. I was very interested in the phrase:A healthy and thriving agriculture will remain among the principal objectives of My Government.41 Fancy that! That is about as indefinite as the terms in which platitudinous references to international relationships have usually been couched, and I should have thought that in their present difficulty, the farming community would want something much more definite than that.
There is no doubt that a considerable number of smaller farmers, with anything from, say, 40 acres to 80 or 100 acres, who will greatly welcome any special aid which is offered to them. But in the few cases in which I have had a chat about the speeches made on behalf of the Government in regard to the future intentions in this direction (I have not had many since I have seen the speeches), I have gathered that it is intended that no new money will be provided—although, of course, I admit that I must wait and see the Bill when it is actually introduced. From the speeches that have been made we gather that while the intention is to give special aid to the small farmer, it must not come out of new Government money; it has all to be recovered in some way from still further review downwards of the guaranteed basis of prices. If that is not so, perhaps we could be assured of it in the course of this two days' general debate, and told what the real position is, and then perhaps we can have a further examination of the Government on the matter when we come to our special Amendment next week on the industry and economic position as a whole.
There is one point in the gracious Speech made from the Throne on which I should like to lay some stress, and that is the paragraph which deals with crime, in which it is said:In the light of the most up-to-date knowledge and research they"—the Government—will seek to improve the penal system and to make methods of dealing with offenders more effective.Perhaps it is a little early to demand some detail about that statement, but I should like to have the mind of the Government upon it. We are extraordinarily fortunate in this House in that we have as the Lord Chancellor at the present time one who has great and fairly recent experience as Home Secretary and who would, therefore, be able to advise pretty well on this subject. On our side 42 of the House, I believe that a great deal of knowledge has been obtained by the special researches carried out by my noble friend Lord Pakenham; and there are others who have given their interest to this matter in the past in the House. So I hope that during the course of the debate we shall have some useful contributions on this matter.
However, there is no doubt at all in my mind that, as one talks to ordinary people in the street, one finds that they are very concerned about the increase in the type of burglary which brings with it the threat of violence. There are firms and workers in firms who are experiencing the difficulties of raids, brutal raids, upon those who carry wages from the banks to the factories for weekly payments. There is a sort of resentment in the minds of people one meets at the idea that, short as is the present establishment of our police forces, so many members of the forces are engaged only in such tasks as doing point duty, directing traffic and similar occupations, essential though they are, and move in twos, threes and fours, spending hours a day in dealing with numbers of motor cars. I gather from magistrates that these policemen occupy a large amount of the time of the courts in the subsequent days and also take up a large amount of the time of members of the police force who are in the courts for dealing with all these other matters.
Whatever the Government are going to do, I hope that they will have an inquiry into every part of the police administration. I believe that the British public as a whole have a great admiration for the British policeman. I believe that the general reaction of the public was one of thankfulness for the way in which such quick action, and I consider effective action, was taken, not only by the police but by the courts, to deal with the racial troubles recently. Nevertheless, it seems to me that apart from the office of chief constable, there is not very much actual supervision of police administration, whether it be in the county or in the borough. The Home Office is nominally the authority concerned, but how it can possibly deal with the effective administration of a police force, whose very job should be to prevent crime and, secondly, to detect crime when it has been committed and to bring it to book, I cannot fully understand.
43 I should like to see some re-examination of the functions of the watch committees and the standing joint committees and of how often the representatives of the public on these bodies are able to bring into review the actual administration of the police for the detection and the prevention of crime. From what I have heard of the actual effectiveness of the watch committees and standing joint committees these functions are at a very low level, and far too much undisturbed authority is left in the hands of the chief constables. I hope that perhaps something more about this matter of crime may be said by the Government in the course of the debate than we can gather from the statement in the gracious Speech made from the Throne.
I do not want to take too long in speaking, and I have already spoken for some time, but it is interesting to look in broad outline at the legislation which is proposed in the gracious Speech. I take it that the reference to making further financial assistance available for Colonial development is likely to be the subject of a Bill. It does not actually say so, but no doubt the noble Earl the Leader of the House will be able to tell us that next Tuesday. I do not need to comment further on the protection and control of deer in Scotland; we shall see the Bill when it comes before us.
But there is a very important Bill which was foreshadowed in a White Paper and is now mentioned in the gracious Speech with regard to an amendment of National Insurance legislation, and with a special tag that it is to assist in the improvement of the scheme for pension rights. I must say that at first sight of what has appeared so far it seems rather doubtful whether that scheme is not just an attempt to make a sort of national substitute for the Labour Party's scheme which was on a much wider and deeper basis and which has previously been published. That may turn out to be the case, but certainly one has grave doubts at first sight of a scheme which is going to be strictly limited in regard to the incomes to which it applies, which is to give the right of contracting out, and is therefore to be removed from the sphere of any attempt to have a real national basis of superannuation or old age pensions—it is to remove a large part of 44 the field of wealth from which contributions might be expected to be made by individuals for the general good of the whole scheme. That seems to me, at least, a little doubtful.
As my right honourable Leader in another place yesterday pointed out in regard to the details so far published of the proposed new scheme, it is going to cost a great deal more in contributions from the worker under the Government scheme to secure, say, a pension of £26 a year, than is at present obtained either by the existing State scheme or by private insurance schemes of an industrial character. That seems to me to be an extraordinary way in which to improve the pension rights of the people. It seems to me, therefore, that a large part of the attempt, so-called, to put this scheme upon what is called a sound financial basis is in order to relieve certain sections of the most wealthy of the community from what would otherwise surely be their proud privilege—namely, to secure a real position of safety on a national basis in a pensions scheme, without excluding themselves (who are never wholly immune from coming to financial disaster) from the opportunity to partake according to their income and to obtain a reasonable pension for themselves if they desire to have it. I hope that we shall hear a great deal more about that subject next Wednesday and Thursday.
Another Bill which is promised and which interests me very much is the proposed new Bill on mental health in England and Wales. I do not know what my noble friend Lord Greenhill will say about this, but they evidently do not need a Bill for mental health in Scotland, unless, of course, the noble Earl the Leader of 'the House is able to assure us that a Scottish Bill will duly follow. Perhaps he will claim that people are of vastly superior mental capacity in Scotland. I agree that the whole question of mental health is of great importance, and its treatment is something that should receive all the care and attention that Parliament can give to it. I hope that we shall have a Bill which is worthy and upon which we can have real consultation to which all Parties can contribute.
I am a little anxious about the Catering Wages Bill which is proposed. I believe that the trade unions have been consulted, and I am not opposed to the 45 idea of changing from a number of wages boards to wages councils. Probably the same principles of existing councils will be translated to the particular wages councils envisaged in the Bill. But what I am anxious to know from the Government, if they can give us more information about it, is this: what is the state generally to-day in the catering and certain other distributing trades of the people who are in no way organised and who were originally catered for only by the existence of the sweated industry provisions under the old Trade Boards Act? If it is going to be possible really to enforce the decisions of the wages councils over the whole range of the industry which is covered by the Bill and not to have any abuses which cannot be detected by inspection, then one can very largely agree with the Bill; but we should like to see the details of that measure when it comes out.
Then there is something that is likely to be, and quite possibly will be, highly controversial—the proposal to bring in a Bill to improve the "basis", whatever that may be, of the payment of compensation for the compulsory purchase of land. I am quite sure that local authorities throughout the country are looking at this statement with grave anxiety and that they will be wondering exactly how it is going to affect their local rates. Certainly all the statements I have heard in your Lordships' House on this point up to the present seem to me to indicate that some provision is to be made for what was called "fairer treatment"—I suppose by paying larger sums than are at present paid under compulsory purchase. I think we shall have to examine every phrase in a Bill of that kind. If it is intended to be a Bill of that type, we shall have to examine it with a microscope to see that it is not going to have very serious effects upon the community at large.
Then I see that there is to be some special measure for encouragement of home ownership. The general idea contained in that phrase is of course most worthy. It is about time we got it from this Government, after all the discouragement to home ownership which has been going on in the last eighteen months or so in the form of the enormous increase in the rates of interest owing to the Governrnent's financial policy, which have had to be paid by those who were embarking on home ownership. When it is 46 suggested, as I believe it was yesterday in another place, that one of the best ways of doing this would be for the Government to lend large sums of money to the building societies and then for them to re-lend at favourable terms to the applicants by way of mortgages to help them buy their own homes, I am not in the least convinced that that is a good thing to do. I should have thought that if State money is to be brought into account in this respect it would be far better to make it a direct transaction between the Government or the local government, and the applicant for the mortgage than to go this roundabout way through the building societies.
To what building societies are you going to give it? It is perfectly obvious to me, judging by the action which the Registrar has had to take in respect of one or two societies, and from the fact that certain others have had to be amalgamated with bigger societies, that a considerable number of the smaller societies are far from being sound, and I do not think it is very profitable to use societies of that kind as channels for the redistribution of heavy, costly, Government grants. In respect of the larger and sounder building societies, I do not think that their actual need (although of course I have not heard them on the matter) is as large as all that, provided that in cases in which the mortgage ought to be almost to the full extent of the sum required the Government and the municipality could be expected to come in on the first advance and do something which would be helpful to the prospective householder in general. We shall have to look at that Bill also, when it comes, with exceeding care. No doubt that, as a financial measure, will be first introduced in another place.
I shall leave it for my noble friend Lord Silkin, when the time comes, to make some reference to the proposals, I think for legislation, about new towns and their management, but I think I ought to say now that we shall certainly not depart from our general view that public opinion in these growing new towns is not for long drawn-out control by other bodies but for them to be given at the earliest possible moment full municipal government and self-control. There might be difficulties in one or two places which perhaps would necessitate delay for a short time until things were put 47 right and it was economically sound to do it, but I hope that the general principle that all Parties will adopt with regard to the new towns will be to make each one of them as early as possible a fitting part of the general scheme of municipal government right through the country.
My Lords, I apologise for having taken so long. I can justify myself only by saying that we have not a very long list of speakers to-day, and I wanted to examine in general the contents of the gracious Speech from the Throne. I hope I have not been over-controversial. I trust that the Government will be willing from now until the end of the debate to give us all the information they possibly can on the points that I have raised and will be able to help us still further when we come to our Amendment next week.
§ 3.30 p.m.
§ LORD GRANTCHESTER
My Lords, I should like first of all to follow the noble Viscount who has just spoken and associate those who sit on these Benches with the tributes that have already been paid to members of the Royal Family, whose labours fill us all with admiration. Coming to the gracious Speech, I would say that when anything goes wrong, it is the fashion to-day to blame the Government. So, at a moment when the country's trading account shows some fine achievements, it is only fair that the Government should feel entitled to praise. If the Government have to put up with kicks, they should also get the cheers. I am one of those who still believe, with many Whigs and Liberals of the past, that, while a Government can do an immense amount of harm in a very short time, the opportunities for making positive contributions to an increase of wealth are very limited; that creative ability is in the minds and hands of individual men and women, and that it is on this that the level of employment really depends. Therefore, I would congratulate Her Majesty's Government on that they do not seek to over-state the part they have played during the past year.
I was particularly impressed by the tribute paid yesterday by the noble Viscount, Lord Goschen, to our scientists and those who work in our industries, to what he termed "the main forces", the British public, for their part, in the achievements 48 of the past year. All the same, when this has been said, I cannot help feeling that the tone of innocence which runs through the Government's story of the country's improvement, and the tone of what I might perhaps call injured innocence where they cannot claim success, as in the case of Cyprus and the Free Trade Area negotiations, mask some deep dilemmas.
May I illustrate what I mean a little more specifically? I do not want to go into the details, but the gracious Speech rightly refers to the importance of Commonwealth interests. It also refers to increased support for British farmers. It also refers to the desirability of a Free Trade Area in Europe. These are all important matters. But the gracious Speech says nothing about the real objections, the grievances of the primary producing countries at the subsidising in the industrialised countries of so much agricultural production. The Government know that much of this production is uneconomic before it starts; that is why they have to subsidise it. So do the Germans, so do the French in the Common Market area. It is this subsidising which is the basis, for example, of New Zealand's complaint and, in Europe, of Denmark's complaint. There is the dilemma. There is very little of Free Trade left, I am afraid, as we understand it, in the discussions now going on in Paris. Perhaps it would be more realistic to face up to the position. Agreement, if reached on the basis now being discussed, may be worth very little from the point of view of European economic integration. It might be as well to consider now the possibility of failure Perhaps a conference called now in London of those O.E.E.C. countries which are not in the Common Market would not be inappropriate.
Again, the gracious Speech refers to the dismantling of certain economic controls and of the Government's resolution to ensure the strength of sterling. I feel that the controls referred to are only the Defence (Finance) Regulations and the Defence (General) Regulations which are still in force. But this is not sufficient if we are to ensure the strength of sterling. While it is still possible to block the accounts in this country of non-residents simply by order, without specific new legislation, sterling can never be a completely desirable world currency. While sterling is not convertible—and I use 49 the word "convertible" in its full sense: it is so often misused to-day—confidence will not be fully restored. How far we are from this desirable end is demonstrated to the world by a Treasury Order continuing to limit the travel allowance for another year to a miserable £100. In this matter we are not even on the basis of equality with German citizens. This is not a question of the amount involved, because that is not great. It is a very had advertisement for sterling. We have talked a great deal about inflation (the word does not appear in the gracious Speech), but I cannot help feeling that the atmosphere prevailing at the moment is likely to develop in an inflationary manner so long as nationalised industries are financed outside the market.
What a wonderful phrase has been coined in the reference in the gracious Speech toa just balance between the expanding demands of the modern State and the freedom and status of the individual".The expanding demands have covered nationalisation, compulsory purchase—sometimes, as the Government now recognise, on an unjust basis—and grossly excessive taxation. The balance has been tipped so far against the individual that we should like Ministers really to set about curbing the demands of the modern State. What are they doing?—introducing a new insurance tax.
Here, my Lords, I suppose that I should declare an interest from my connection with the business of insurance. In the Government scheme the insurance principle is now abandoned. No longer is it claimed, as it was under the Beveridge scheme, to have any actuarial basis. In my opinion, the worst feature is that the principle of flat-rate benefit, below which level we should not wish anyone to fall, is abandoned in favour of a minimum with graduated increases for graduated contributions. Noble Lords on these Benches can see no justification for anything other than a flat-rate benefit for all. The incursion into graduation is an interference and, we think, an unwarra[...]ed one, with the right of the individual to decide for himself how he will spend his savings. Unlike the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, I doubt very much whether there can be much contracting out under the provisions that are set out in the White Paper. It will 50 be said by Her Majesty's Government that in this matter they have committed only a very little sin, but it is the opening: of the door to what is a very undesirable slippery road. The excuse that it is necessary to make the fund solvent seems to me to be a bad one, for the taxpayer has to find an extra £45 million a year. No reason is given in the White Paper, for instance, for not considering the raising of the pension age by, say, two years, as has been done in some other countries, to help the solvency of the fund.
Like the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, I look with some distrust at the reference to home ownership. To take compulsorily the savings which individuals have not put on deposit with the building societies and to provide deposits with this taxation seems to me to be wrong, and the effect may be merely to out up the prices of the older houses, which have recently fallen considerably.
Since I cannot be in the House next week, as I have to go abroad, perhaps I may be forgiven for a passing reference to Cyprus, having made a short visit to Athens during the vacation. I found there that the memory of Turkish occupation still rankles in the minds of the citizens of Athens, and no doubt this influences their views on the matter of Cyprus. We have in London the Elgin Marbles, saved from destruction in Athens by the foresight of an Englishman; and if, as one of the terms of settlement in Cyprus, we could restore these monuments to Athens, and content ourselves in London with plaster copies, I wonder whether we might not be making a gesture that would be evidence of our good will and help to heal a deep wound in the memories of both Greek and Turk.
The noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, has already referred to the matter of Regional Pacts. The working, in practice, of the Regional Pacts, as I am sure we all feel, has not been satisfactory from the angle of political control, whatever is to be said on the military side. We shall certainly be interested to hear more from the Government on this aspect, if not to-day, then at an early date. To sum up the gracious Speech, I think we must feel that the pious assumption that we can have the best of all worlds at the same time skirts, and so fails to bring out; the cross-currents and the contradictions 51 which underlie the soothing words. We shall have to speak more of this aspect as the measures envisaged in the gracious Speech are tabled and come before us for discussion.
§ 3.45 p.m.
§ THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (VISCOUNT HAILSHAM)
My Lords, before I come to the two speeches to which we have just listened, I shall, I hope and believe, be forgiven if I add my own feelings about the speeches of the opener and the seconder of the debate to those which have been so well expressed by those who succeeded them and preceded me.
Like most of your Lordships I have heard a great number of opening and seconding speeches on the occasion of the Opening of Parliament, and I think I can honestly say that I have never heard it badly, and certainly never unworthily, done. The praise which is by custom lavished upon the opener and seconder is therefore never insincere and practically never undeserved. I should like to say, however, on this occasion, that I do not think I have ever heard it better done in either House than it was done yesterday. And, without in any way appearing to be patronising, or unduly fulsome, I should like to say also, perfectly sincerely, as regards the speech of my noble friend Lord Jellicoe, that I think perhaps it was the best opening Speech to which I have ever listened on this occasion, in either House. It was not simply that the method of presentation and the touch were excellent—that, I think, is almost always the case on these occasions, grateful as one is for it—but it was, as it seemed to me, that the matter of his speeech and its content were altogether outstanding, if he will allow me to say so, and showed a breadth of vision and statesmanship which is sometimes not always present on occasions of this kind.
The noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, in his altogether happy references to that speech yesterday, was, I think, disposed to make too much of the fact that my noble friend had so recently emerged from the Cross-Benches. I should have said, without any affectation, that if I, as Chairman of my Party, had been looking about for a moderate and central exposition of the 52 Conservative Party's outlook on international and Commonwealth affairs, I could not have done better than repeat the words which my noble friend Lord Jellicoe uttered yesterday in his general conspectus of the gracious Speech. If it be the case, as I hope and trust it is, from what the noble Viscount opposite said yesterday, that he found much in that speech which was not only praiseworthy but also agreeable to him from the point of view of agreement, I would say that there really is a much greater measure of possibility of national unity on these subjects than is perhaps generally realised by the public at large. I therefore welcomed the noble Viscount's praises of my noble friend, not merely because they were well-spoken and customary, but because I think they showed that there is perhaps a deeper underlying agreement on matters of fundamental importance than may appear at first sight.
I must not, like Lord Randolph Churchill, commit the mistake of forgetting Goschen; and of course I do not forget my noble friend who seconded the Address. In one sense, he had by far the more difficult task, because in the division of labour between the two speakers he had to deal with the detailed legislation. That is almost an impossible assignment on the occasion of the opening debate of a Session, but I am glad to think that the way in which my noble friend did it was commendable to both sides of the House—although one would not expect a speech which was largely in praise of the domestic legislation of the Government to find the same agreement in matters of content as a general review of the world situation and of the underlying aims of the country at large. My noble friend Lord Goschen said at the beginning of his speech that he felt extremely diffident. Usually speeches are better when the speaker feels diffident; and therefore I will not ask him not to feel diffident again but will merely say that there was no objective reason for his feeling, and that only his own modesty need cause him to suffer those pangs in the future.
I was glad, too, that both the opener and the seconder, and, indeed, the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition, made reference to Her Majesty and the Royal Family. We do not in Parliament 53 say much about Royalty, and that is a wholesome tradition deeply founded upon the nature of our Constitution and the relationship between Parliament and the Crown. Indeed, from my recollection of the Rules of Order in another place it was actually out of order to do so there, and I am far too ignorant of your Lordships' procedure, after only eight years amongst your Lordships, to know whether it is technically in or out of order here. But I sensed, if I may say so, from the way in which the references were received, that it was wholly to your Lordships' taste, if it be an exception, that an exception should be made on this absolutely unique occasion. It is worth saying, after what we did yesterday, how proud we are of our Queen and her family. We are proud of the ancient Monarchy, which is at once the symbol of the continuous and peaceful development of our national life and the expression of our hope and belief in its continuance in the future on the same lines, and just as proud of its present living embodiment in that radiant and beautiful figure of our present Sovereign. I think it is well that we should say it occasionally.
I hope it is thought that we did right in submitting this intimate ceremony to the lights of television. It was, of course, a matter which caused anxieties and doubts on both sides of the House—on Back Benches and on Front Benches. I think they were reasonable and prudent anxieties and doubts. There was, of course, the danger that, in exposing what has always been a public yet nevertheless an intimate confrontation between the wearer of the Crown and her Parliament, it might somehow be cheapened, and that the actors might in some way modify their demeanour because of a consciousness of a wider audience. I feel that we wholly escaped that danger. Some people were afraid that the televising of this performance might be treated as a precedent, leading to the televising of debates. But I believe that it would be the sense of the House and the country that they are two different affairs; one could by no means be treated as a precedent for the other. The whole tradition of the Opening of Parliament from its earliest mediæval times was that of a public occasion. That is the meaning of the presence of the Peeresses and the Diplomatic Corps. I am absolutely certain that if, by some 54 miracle, the device of television had been open to the mediæval Monarchs who initiated this ceremony, they would have used it, and that the extension of it to this ceremony is in absolute line with the historic meaning of the ceremony itself. But the debates of the Houses are essentially domestic, and have only recently come to be reported at all legally. Therefore, there is no comparison between the two things.
Lastly, I would say that we were all concerned, as I think the noble Viscount opposite indicated in what he said this afternoon, that nobody should run away with the idea, as a result of our televising the performance, that the gracious Speech was anything more than a document like any other for which the Government of the day are responsible, and that the utterance of that Speech by the Sovereign is no more than the embodiment of a very well-known constitutional theory. I myself, so far from believing, as some people have done, that what we did yesterday could in any way throw any doubt upon it, believe that it will be an element in the education and enlightenment of our extremely well-informed and sophisticated people upon that particular point. In fact, if I had thought for a moment, and if my colleagues had thought, that the televising of this ceremony could lead to any other conclusion than that which the noble Viscount expressed, and which I heartily endorse, I am sure that nobody in Parliament would have wished the ceremony to be televised at all.
I would also say that at the end of the ceremony I was left—I do not know, but I hope that the House was also left—with a sense of real joy that something which I personally have always found both beautiful and uplifting could at length, thanks to the development of science, be shared by millions outside; because the tradition of constitutional Monarchy, to which the noble Viscount movingly referred in his speech, is something which is not a matter of Party but of deep affection by the whole people.
I say one more thing only, and then I have done on this subject. I hope that I have not detained your Lordships too long about it, but it was in fact an historic occasion which differentiated this Opening from any other Opening which has preceded it. Therefore, I thought I 55 was entitled to refer to it. I well remember, when the Queen's father died, how her mother, in a most moving broadcast, commended her to the loyalty and love of her people. It is right that we should say now that never has a Monarch reigned so securely in our love and loyalty, so quickly and so wholly.
My Lords, I enjoyed both the speeches to which we have listened this afternoon. The newspapers tell us that this is going to be a Session with "the gloves off", whatever that may mean. That is as may be. I could see no trace of it in either of the speeches to which we listened, and, so far as I am concerned, that is agreeable. I do not believe that this House lends itself very easily to the more bitter, rancorous, exhibitions of Party feeling. Indeed, if there be a danger—and it is not for us to discuss whether there is a danger—that in one of the later Sessions another place might, from time to time, find its temper a little frayed, I think that only underlines the value of your Lordships' House that there should remain a Chamber that is to some extent above the dust and heat of Party conflict, where relatively severe things can be said across the Floor of the House without causing personal pain or individual affront.
After experience of controversial politics for the greater part of my adult life, and having found myself for eighteen months, very much against my will, rather at the centre of Party controversy, I would say—and I am perfectly sure that the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition, whose experience in this matter is so much longer than my own, will agree—that the public, on the whole, does not like the bitter denigration of one Party by another. It likes to think that both Parties may differ about fundamental principles without in any way undermining their own integrity of purpose or necessarily being motivated by other than honourable motives. When prominent leaders of political Parties do, as they so often are driven to do—and I should be the last to say that any one of us is guiltless in this respect—embark upon the denigration of the other side, I have the uneasy feeling that they are not so much damaging the other side as damaging democracy. I should be very glad indeed to think that we in this House could continue to show in this Session of Parliament (whether it be the last or not 56 —and I am not going to give the noble Viscount any relief from his anxiety on that score) that this House sot a standard of debate which was above the bitterer rancours; and I believe in doing so it will enhance its reputation with the general public and the nation at large.
There was very little to complain of in the matter of the speeches, either. I cannot, for physical reasons which, from his recollection of administration, the noble Viscount will no doubt remember, give him much of the detailed information for which he asked on this occasion. His inquiries ranged over a very large number of Departments.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
The Speech does, but the Speech contains, as the noble Viscount was ready to remind us, as all such Speeches do, a number of general observations about Government policy, and I could not, without notice at any rate, disclose the detailed information which the noble Viscount pressed me to give. I am not sure that on the whole he really wished to do more than give notice of a number of questions which at one time or another he desires to probe more closely, and to ask, as and when they are probed, that the information will be readily available to him from Government sources more authoritatively and in a more detailed form than it would be possible for me to give this afternoon.
I should like, in the course of the very few remarks I propose to make, to try to get back to one or two general themes which I fear we are in danger of losing sight of in the close scrutiny of the individual trees of the wood. I have now on a number of occasions spoken in a debate immediately after the noble Viscount, the Leader of the Opposition, and the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester. What I say now has, I think, particular reference to their two speeches this afternoon but is indeed based upon a wider experience of their divergencies. On every occasion I have been pre-occupied with the extraordinary gulf which separates the Labour Party opposite and its official spokesmen from, at any rate, Liberal speakers in the House of Lords, although I am bound to say, in fairness to the Liberal Party, that the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, does not at any rate 57 conform in many respects with the published propaganda of the Liberal Party in the country.
Which is the more authoritative exposition of contemporary Liberalism I am quite unable to decide, but when I heard the noble Lord's condemnation of the provision of public money for house purchase and I remembered what I had read the Liberal pamphlets at the by-elections were promising to do, I was startled almost beyond endurance, because they were not only different but poles apart. When the noble Lord in future gives us the benefit of his wisdom I think he should at some part of his speech explain exactly to what extent he is differing from his official Party doctrine and why. Because on that point, at any rate, the official Liberal Party doctrine is almost identical, so far as I can remember, with that contained in the gracious Speech. I was astonished, too, to hear him say that he was speaking on behalf of his Party when he said that he would stick through thick and thin to a flat rate benefit in insurance matters. I can only suppose that he has not really studied the size of the deficit which the existing system is leading us to expect, because I can assure him that, apart from various advantages of a graduated contribution and graduated benefit which we shall discuss when the scheme comes to be debated here in detail, as I hope it will, we, at any rate, can think of no way of making the existing scheme financially respectable without introducing that graduated system of contributions and graduated benefits.
I should have thought that there were large divergencies between our own scheme and that advocated by the Labour Party, but I understood from reading their documents that they had come to exactly the same conclusion. The noble Lord, I think, is living in a dream if he does not recognise, if he is at all sincere (as we ail know he is) about his desire to see the finances of this country kept on a respectable basis, that deficits of the order of £200 million and more can only be rernedied—unless he wishes to see a level of taxation for larger than anything he has known before, even under a Labour Government—by something of the kind we are now proposing. I would suggest that he, with his many insurance connections in the City, should study a little 58 more the economics of the present scheme and I think he will find that it is a good deal better than he was disposed to think at first sight.
§ LORD GRANTCHESTER
The White Paper provides for an extra contribution from the taxpayer of £45 million a year because of the mounting deficit.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
I think the noble Lord is mistaken. What he must compare the £45 million with is the deficit otherwise to be met out of the Exchequer if we do not introduce a scheme of any kind. It is that comparison I would invite him to make in detail before we debate the subject again. I hope very much indeed that when he has done so he will revise his opinion of our national superannuation scheme radically and more favourably than he has so far done.
What the two speeches really prompted in me was the reaction which I have always felt passionately after I have heard the Liberal Party in this House and the doctrine of the Labour Party. There is a radical assumption in both which I must, on behalf of my colleagues and myself, emphatically repudiate, and that is that between the individualism of the past expressed in the Manchester school of economics and described by the Labour Party as a "free-for-all", and complete Socialism, whether democratic, national or Communist, there is no intermediate or no third alternative or possibility which can be embraced by a modern society which is not guilty of some dishonest compromise. This is the radical assumption which both noble Lords seem to me to make in their approach to social and economic and political problems, and it is precisely that which I emphatically repudiate and which I believe the whole history of the Conservative Party proves to be wrong. We passionately believe in a development of modern society which is consistent with private enterprise but which is not committed to the Manchester school of economics and the extremities of individualism to which the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester is such a distinguished and persistent adherent.
I think it is worth while, on an occasion such as this, to indicate why we believe that this is so both in theory and in practice, and then I will have done for this afternoon. The development of private 59 enterprise in the nineteenth century in the form in which it is still advocated by the noble Lord is one of the great success stories of history. The growth of the wealth of the nation as the result of the Industrial Revolution is indeed one of the most startling things which has ever happened to the human race in the course of its existence on the planet—and it happened for the first time. As we all know, it began by a devotion of surplus resources to the multiplication of the means of production, communication and transport, and it succeeded beyond the dreams of any society which had existed up to that point. Both the noble Lord and I, although I suspect not the Party opposite, would agree that it succeeded largely because it emphasised the needs of individual liberty, opportunity and enterprise against obsolete mercantilism and authoritarianism.
Where I part company from the noble Lord opposite is that I do not think he has sufficiently considered its limitations. I would never accuse the Liberalism of the past—I have too many Liberal relations—of excessive materialism, although its critics have almost always made that accusation, and with some appearance of justification. Where I think they went wrong was in not realising that human dignity is an economic fact, and that the savage individualism of the nineteenth century was not merely morally and politically wrong in the evil effect it had upon human dignity, but was also economically wrong. True economic wisdom demands a well-fed, stable, fully employed population.
There is in fact a political philosophy which is able to reconcile those requirements with the continued existence of private enterprise. It is precisely because the Party that I belong to believes that, and has, I believe, been able to prove it, that it is so vastly superior to that to which the noble Lord belongs and which I think is hopelessly out of date upon this vital topic.
There is another point at which I part company with the noble Lord in regard to economics. I think he overestimates the extent to which profitability is a criterion from the point of view of desirable economic activity. I, like the noble Lord, believe in that criterion; 60 I think it is both a discipline and a spur. But there are, in the whole realms of economic activity, cases where profitability is no kind of criterion at all—roads, education, atmospheric pollution, sewage disposal. All of those have their economic advantages—I am leaving aside any spiritual or moral point, their effect upon human happiness, except in so far as human happiness can be economically measured. But they do yield dividends in terms of hard material facts and rewards, although they cannot be measured in terms of the profit of any individual entrepreneur. There are also a vast number of modern economic enterprises of such a size and complexity that individual economic entrepreneurs cannot undertake them. When I was in capitalist America this Spring I was shown the vast dams of the Tennessee Valley Authority—quite outside the range which private enterprise could undertake, but fertilising private enterprise in that country at every stage of its activity.
What I would say to the noble Lord about what seems to me to be his hopeless archaism in economic and social doctrines is that these are facts of the twentieth century which are not inconsistent with the continuance of private enterprise, but which are every day being grafted on to private enterprise in order to secure its survival into the twenty-first century, of course in a form radically different from that in which it began in the eighteenth century. I would ask him to see in what we are trying to do to-day not an attempt to contradict his own beliefs or to compromise with those beliefs by flirting with Socialism, but an attempt in an objective way to he true to the traditions of those who believe in private enterprise and opportunity while bringing them into real conformity with the facts of life as we know them to be.
Now I turn to the philosophy of the noble Viscount opposite with which I am in much more considerable disagreement than I am with that of the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, because the noble Viscount is addicted to the philosophy of Socialism, although he may call it democratic Socialism. I think he is underestimating the extent to which the evils which all of us deplored in the past have 61 been due to under-employment, and the extent to which the structure to which his Party has now become rigidly attached, both in economic organisation and even in the matter of social service, was created by a system of under-employment and not by a system of private enterprise. If he could project himself into the future a Little, I think he would find that the doctrines to which he is quite sincerely attached are really only a little less obsolete than some of the more extreme versions of private enterprise to which the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester tends to give voice.
I would say to the noble Viscount opposite that Socialism, especially in its democratic form, which I think is in some ways, although not the most ignoble, at least the most disastrous form of Socialism, is bound to lead to disaster. Even in the long run Socialism and democracy are utterly inconsistent with one another, and either in order to make Socialism work the Socialist will be driven to impose limitations on private enterprise which are inconsistent with democracy, or democracy, exhausted and bored with the restrictions and frustration of Socialism, will revolt against it and upset the structure that he is creating. Indeed, that is what it did in 1951.
If we look at the things which happen in a so-called democratic Socialist structure we see two or three propositions to be true. In the first place, because trade and industry are of their very nature international and the State by its very composition at the present time national, every so-called democratic Socialist society has been driven to a form of national socialism which is essentially restrictive and essentially evil in its effects upon society. Secondly, I think he will find that in every case where democratic socialism has been tried it has been driven to expend money in some form of payments by way of consumption to those whom it wishes to cause to vote for it in a popular Election—to spend so much money that it is driven into a balance of payments crisis in the short run, and in the long run is driven to neglect the proper subjects of State expenditure such as roads, hospitals, education, sewage disposal, and air pollution. I think that what it does leads inevitably to this result, and has led to it on every occasion upon which there has been a Labour Party 62 Government in the past. The 1923 Government failed to deal with unemployment; the 1931 Government landed us in a balance of payments crisis; the Government which lasted until 1951 landed us in a balance of payments crisis after having devalued the £ and so far as I am aware any prescription which the Labour Party in Opposition have offered as a solution of our economic problems could only lead us into another economic crisis centred around the balance of payments.
Now the economic policy which we perceive is founded on twin pillars: first, a stable currency; secondly, a high and stable level of employment. The noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, would prefer the phrase "full employment"; and in a sense so would I, because it is a phrase which people think they understand. The other, however, is that which has the more precise and honourable pedigree, and I think, with respect, that Her Majesty's advisers were right in sticking to it this time, since it goes back to the White Paper of 1944 which was agreed by all Parties. But it necessarily follows from what I have been saying that economic policy depends on both of these twin pillars. In an international atmosphere of inflation and rising demand all over the world it is inevitable that the main pressure of Gov-eminent policy must be in favour of a stable currency. And if we had not last year made that our principal objective I have no doubt whatever that we should have forfeited the confidence of this nation, instead of, as has happened in the last five months, putting ourselves in a position of confidence which no Government with a comparable period of office behind it in point of time has ever, so far as I know, been able to enjoy.
We dealt with inflation, in spite of the fact that noble Lords opposite told us, either from the angle of the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, that we were not trying enough in the way of deflationary measures, or, from the point of view of the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, that we were doing remarkably too little and using ineffective weapons. In spite of being then accused of complacency we claimed throughout that we were pursuing a rational, sane and just policy of our own, and we can at any rate claim that, whether it was 63 due to "a little bit of luck" or to good management—and in human affairs one usually requires both to avoid shipwreck —we at least succeeded, in spite of the threats and the dire warnings of both the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, and the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough.
It does not follow, of course, that if the world atmosphere were to change, as it may have done, from inflation and surging demand to recession, the main emphasis of our policy ought not to be the maintenance of our employment—and let me say at once that we are going to make the maintenance of employment a principal, if not the principal, object of our policy.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
My Lords, I am delighted at this long, almost philosophical discourse, and we shall take great note of it before the debate on the Amendment on Wednesday next. Of course, I must point out, on the last statement made by the noble Viscount, that his Party said exactly the same thing during the whole of the period from 1921 to 1939—and never once did they get away from that appalling and overbearing burden of unemployment and poverty.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
My Lords, I remember that the Labour Government did not make much of a shot at it either.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
My Lords, the reason why the Labour Party were never in a majority was that nobody had any confidence in them at all, and they had no policy which could have dealt with the situation. Let us get that record straight. But I am not living in the past, like the noble Viscount: I am looking at contemporary affairs. We may be wrong in our belief that we can handle the situation, but we are certainly determined to handle it. Quite obviously, the situation—and by that I mean the international situation, rather than the internal situation—is different from that of a year ago, and I should just like to put before the Party opposite one or two considerations which I feel they should bear in mind.
64 It is not true at all that the present falling off in our index of production has much to do with the policy of restriction which we were quite clearly pursuing until August last. The principal factor in the present situation is the drift down on the export order book. That is not due to political action by this Government. We are quite prepared to defend our political action as being right in the war against inflation, but these two facts are unrelated. Secondly, I would say to noble Lords opposite that there can be no more idiotic way of behaving, if we are to be threatened by recession—which is by no means certain—than to run the machine flat out on the home market. That would certainly precipitate a balance of payments crisis. It would also price us out of the export market, destroy the stability of currency and lead to widespread unemployment.
So, listening to some of the comments out of doors by some of the noble Viscount's colleagues, I have been seriously alarmed at the complacent assumption that all we have to do with the trade recession is to pull down the blinds so that we cannot see outside and can have no contact with the outside world, and then run every machine inside the factory flat out, producing no matter what, so long as, just for the moment, the wheels are turning round. That seems to me to be a perfectly idiotic way of seeking salvation. We believe that we can, and are, dealing with the situation by the methods we have adopted. We have, in fact, stimulated home demand. We have removed controls from hire purchase. We are re-examining our public investment programme. Current public expenditure, for reasons which are quite outside the subject we are now discussing, is going to rise; and assuming that a reasonable degree of confidence exists in the outside world, I see absolutely no reason at all to be afraid of anything of the kind mentioned by the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, in referring to the situation between 1921 and 1939.
We have said—indeed, I was reported as saying over the week-end—that we take this situation seriously, and that in the coming winter months the drift down on the export order book, and possibly the absorption of stocks, particularly steel stocks, may give rise to a temporary 65 increase in the unemployment figures. We are just as much concerned about that as anybody else—and just as determined to deal with it. Here there is one thing that I should like to say to the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition: I do not think his Party do much service to the understanding of this problem by their absolute insistence on, or continual reiteration of, the need for the constant working of industry at the maximum. As I see it, the only effect of that would be to ensure that the pattern of industrial production would remain absolutely frozen and rigid, thereby depriving us of any degree of flexibility whatsoever and denying us our right of progress for the future.
This House can perform a very real service to the community at the present time by rational and objective discussion of these problems of economics with which both sides equally are concerned. We welcome the tone of the noble Viscount's speech and I hope that nothing I have said has caused him any personal affront, although in the coming months I hope that we shall make politics as interesting as they should be and say some really savage things about each other's ideas.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
My Lords, may I just ask whether, in the course of the two general debates, we might have some answer, for example, on the point of defence and N.A.T.O.?
My Lords, I understand that there will be an opportunity for that. I do not think the noble Viscount can expect me to answer for a speech by the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Montgomery of Alamein, but if he cares to put down any kind of Question that will, of course, be dealt with with the precision with which Questions are already dealt. I consulted my noble Leader when the noble Viscount was making his observations on the speech of the noble and gallant Viscount, and I feel that I had far better steer clear of it this afternoon. I cannot undertake, on behalf of my colleagues, any responsibility for what the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Montgomery of Alamein, may say from the Cross-Benches, either out of doors or in this House. We will deal with matters for which we are responsible.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
My Lords, the Leader of the Opposition, I believe, is entitled to say that if he puts across a perfectly specific case and asks a specific question the Government might be expected to reply. That is the reply I want.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
My Lords, I believe that that is exactly what I told the noble Viscount he would get if he put down a Question.
§ 4.30 p.m.
My Lords, I rise very briefly to express regret that no mention has been made in the gracious Speech with regard to the easing or abolishing of currency restrictions for British subjects travelling abroad. In fact, on the contrary, there was an announcement from the Treasury just before Parliament reassembled that the basic travel allowance was to remain at £100 for a period commencing November 1. The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, mentioned this matter and he said that the retention of this £100 restriction was a bad advertisement for sterling. I could not agree with him more and I am sure he is absolutely right. The Sunday Express in an excellent article last Sunday took its readers to task for dumbly accepting the continuance of this unnecessary restriction. I should like to say that I am not going to accept it dumbly; I am going to protest again and again. I think it is time that Britons ceased being poor relations when they go abroad, particularly now when our trade surplus is the highest in history.
I do not believe that sufficient thought has been given to the present position when making this announcement. I believe the Treasury are playing safe and saying, "I suppose £100 does not really affect many people. Perhaps we had better leave it on." Well, I believe it is time that it was taken off, and that it could be taken off now without any serious effect. On the contrary, I believe many beneficial results would occur. I believe that if our currency restrictions were abolished it would encourage other countries to do likewise and more people would come to this country. There would be a tremendous saving in administrative costs, because I see no reason why the outward customs examination should not be abolished if the currency restrictions were removed. At the present time, 67 practically all that the outward customs examination does is to check how much currency you have got. A removal of the restrictions would greatly ease delays at ports and the tasks of the Customs and Immigration officials. They do their job extremely well, but only the other day a liner which was landing passengers at one of our major ports had to retain them on board for nearly two hours after docking, because there happened to be a rush of ships arriving on that particular evening, and Customs officers just were not available to "clear" them.
The late Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade was good enough to talk to the Association of British Travel Agents during their convention at Torquay. He said in his remarks that tourism to be healthy must be two-way; we cannot take all and give nothing. I am sure that he is right and that two-way travel would be greatly stimulated by abolishing the £100 limit to the travel allowance. The very day after he spoke to the convention he was transferred to the post of Financial Secretary to the Treasury, and I am sure that all of us in the travel world greatly welcome his new appointment. We hope that he will continue to take a great interest in travel at the Treasury and will use his influence to get these unnecessary restrictions abolished.
I should like to say only one more thing. I welcome the statement in the gracious Speech about legislation to abolish the Catering Wages Act and to form catering wages councils. I only hope that when the time comes one nettle will be boldly grasped and that the practice of tipping will be recognised as a fact and not ignored as it has been in the Act. I am sorry that there is no mention of measures to help new and existing hotels with finance for building and improvement, and of other possible action to assist this industry, which is falling so far behind the hotel industry in other countries. I have been abroad a good deal during the past summer and everywhere one sees great new hotels being built. Some are being built here, but nothing like as many as there are overseas. I know that the Board of Trade are fully aware of the importance of this subject, and they called a very successful conference in May to discuss 68 all aspects of it. It has been stated that they have appointed a committee of investigation into the subject, which I understand, from what I have been told, has been sitting for some time. I only hope that they will issue a statement in the near future and show that we really can get ahead with building the hotels in this country which are so badly needed to cope with the increasing flow of tourists.
§ 4.37 p.m.
§ LORD WISE
My Lords, I make no apology for once again turning to the question of agriculture in relation to the gracious Speech. I shall do so not as living in the past, as the noble Viscount mentioned a few moments ago, but as deeply concerned with the present, and I hope to deal with the present position. I hope also that, although no one has spoken from the other Benches to-day on this particular important point in the gracious Speech, noble Lords will take an opportunity of expressing their views as to whether or not they are satisfied with the present position of this main industry of ours.
My noble Leader has mentioned the wording in the gracious Speech. We have been accustomed in recent years to having in the gracious Speech various platitudes with regard to agriculture, but this year there is one in particular which I think, if I may say so, beats the lot. It is to me a sign that after a cycle of seven years in power the Government are still in difficulties in regard to the agricultural industry. The words in the gracious Speech to which I refer are as follows:A healthy and thriving agriculture will remain among the principal objectives of My Government.What does that mean—will remain a principal objective? Surely, after seven years, there should not be any "principal objectives" remaining in regard to an industry which is of vital importance to us.
In spite of the enthusiastic comments of members of the Government and their supporters in the country, agriculture at the present time is neither thriving nor healthy. I hope that, if the Government consider me to be wrong in that expression, they will tell us before the end of this debate exactly what is their interpretation of the words which have been 69 inserted in the gracious Speech. Seven years ago, or thereabouts, when we left office, the Government came in and found a thriving and a healthy agriculture: never in the history of the industry had there been a greater prosperity. But at the moment depression has crept in, and I think that we on both sides of the House want to consider how that depression can be avoided by not going still further down.
I have been sorry to have to express year by year some condemnation of the Government in regard to this particular industry in which I have such a keen interest, but I am bound to say that I have seen no improvement whatever in the past year. My noble leader has referred to the difficulties of the harvest, and the noble Viscount who seconded the Address certainly commiserated with the industry on the position at the present time and the difficulties which we have lately been through; and I am sure that those on the Front Bench opposite and the Benches behind who are interested and engaged in farming will agree that difficulties have been experienced during the last few months, both in regard to the harvest and otherwise.
Corn and fodder crops have been spoilt, while the sugar content of the beet crop is, I believe, lower than the proper standard and what we may expect in a good summer. The pastures certainly are green, but I am afraid that their feeding value has become deficient by reason of the excessive rainfall and the waterlogging which we have experienced. At the present time the barns and storages are full of corn which, owing to the difficulties of the harvest, the moisture content and the general state of the market, farmers are unable to sell and merchants are unable to move; and it is certain that, before the year is out, financial difficulties will be experienced by the farmers as a result of the loss of weight in grain and the inability to cash their products. The future also is not too bright, again as a result of the conditions that have prevailed. Sowing and cultivations are behind time, and in many cases the fields which during the last few years have become clean are now waterlogged and foul.
How do the Government hope to achieve the objectives which they set out in the gracious Speech? As I have said, 70 if they have any knowledge or views other than their present operation of free marketing and a free-for-all in agriculture I hope that they will tell us what they have in mind. It is obvious that the agricultural industry cannot again be set on a proper footing by the two operations which are mentioned in the gracious Speech. Loans to small farmers will certainly not solve the real issue, and more money for the Agricultural Mortgage Corporation to lend for the purchase of farms or for capital improvements at high rates of interest (because rates of interest are still high) will avail nothing to an industry which is fast losing its credit-worthiness—and that through no fault of its own.
What we want, my Lords, is an imaginative solution to the difficulties which we have experienced, and I appeal to the Government to tackle the problem with vision and authority. They can exercise their authority. At the moment they have full strength in another place, and they have strength at an extraordinary height in your Lordships' House, and any measures which they seek to put through for the benefit of agriculture would, I am certain, be carried not only from their own side but with our approval also.
I have tried to stress time and again what I consider should take place, and I make no apology for repetition. On many occasions I have called attention to the marketing systems under which we market our products, and I would again repeat that in my view we in this country are operating under the most futile and stupid methods of any marketing systems; and at the moment we cannot help ourselves. If I may be excused for using words which are not my own, may I say thatWe plough the fields and scatter The good seed …but someone else reaps the benefit of our labours. There are no guaranteed prices or assured markets, and at the present time these particular words have become a mere slogan. There is no truth and no substance in them, because we do not know from day to day where our market is likely to be and what our price is likely to be. Admittedly we have subsidies of a high—a too high—amount, from the Government and the taxpayer, but I am certain that what the industry would prefer is to know that our commodities can be sold at stable prices and what they are worth.
71 It is ironic, I think, that in the marketing systems of this country the products of the land and the products of the sea are the only products, as far as I know, which are subjected to this haphazard system of market bargaining. Minerals which we obtain from under the land are more or less on fixed prices. If we want to buy coal, we know what we have to pay. If we want to buy sand, gravel or anything else of a mineral nature, we know what the price will be. We have set prices in cars and in practically every other commodity we buy. We cannot bargain with the producer; very often we cannot bargain with the retailer. The price is there, and we have to pay it. But the farmer is not in that happy position. He is in the unfortunate position of having to pay set prices for the commodities which he has to buy—implements, fertilisers, feeding-stuffs, and so on; but when he comes to sell his own commodities, he has to depend on what the purchaser will give for them, upon the state of the market, and often upon whether it is a fine day or a wet one. The whole thing is crazy. I appeal to the Government to take steps to remedy this state of affairs. I am certain that they would be approved in the industry.
We in our industry have no control whatsoever over costs. It has become known in the last few days, from the reports issued by certain suppliers of commodities which we must buy year after year, that out of the farming industry, and possibly also from their export trade, these suppliers' returns last year were a matter of millions. That sort of thing does not happen to the farmer. I therefore hope that the Government will take some steps to control the costs which the farming industry have to meet.
I also hope that better and more adequate credit facilities can be extended to us. I notice with interest that the Government are thinking in terms of helping the small farmer. As my noble Leader said, we must await the actual proposals which they have in mind, but, whatever happens in regard to providing finance for the small farmer, I hope that the Government will be able to limit the interest to the lowest possible. I have read with interest the report of the Land Settlement Association. I notice from that report that interest charges for commodities 72 and loans are still comparatively high, and I hope that some amelioration can take place. The report shows that 5 per cent. of the smallholdings which come under the Association's jurisdiction have changed tenancy during the last year, because the out-going tenants have gone into some other industry. I also notice that the average return—profit if you like—for the small farmer was a matter of only £600, which represented not only the farmer's toil but, in many cases, that of his wife and his family also. That profit, moreover, was subject to certain interest charges which were not disclosed in the Report.
I mention that figure, my Lords, in order to show you that we are anxious that every facility should be given to small farmers to carry on working with a full reward for their labours. I am anxious that there should be an extension of smallholdings, and I should like to ask the Government whether any alterations have taken place in their view, as expressed in paragraph 3 of the Seventh Annual Report on Smallholdings, which says:It was found necessary to impose further restrictions on capital expenditure in February, 1956, and, as recorded in the Sixth Annual Report, the Minister stated, in a circular letter to local authorities issued in that month, that he did not propose for the time being to approve or sponsor any new expenditure on smallholdings except in cases of special urgency.From the Report, it seems that no great effort was made in that year by any county council to acquire smallholdings. I should like the House to be informed whether this curtailment of expenditure now operates, or whether instructions will be given to county councils once again to open their outlook for smallholdings, because, according to this Report, there are still thousands of young farmers who are seeking smallholdings.
I want to express, as I have often done before, my anxiety about the condition of agriculture. I am certain that on both sides of the House we wish the industry well and that whatever action we can take to foster it, to lessen its difficulties and to assure to all employed on the land a full return for their efforts, in the interests of the nation will be taken. In speaking of other industries, the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, suggested that we might not be quite sure that we wanted them to work at the maximum. I think 73 that, so far as agriculture is concerned, we should adopt the principle that we hope it will be able to work at the maximum
§ Moved, That the debate be now adjourned.—(Lord Mills.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly.
§ House adjourned at five O'clock