§ 4.26 p.m.
§ Debate resumed.
§ LORD ALDINGTON
My Lords, may I begin by asking for the indulgence which your Lordships customarily extend to those who are addressing the House for the first time? I shall do my best not to overstrain the tolerance and understanding which is customarily accorded to maiden speeches, but this will not be as easy to-day as it is sometimes, because there is, unhappily, an important area of sharp controversy about financial and economic policy. If I cannot wholly avoid that area, I will do my best not to be aggressively controversial, though I must say that the two noble Lords who last spoke have tempted me greatly—a temptation which I hope I shall resist.
Before I come to the main subject of my speech, I should like to say that, like my noble friend Lord Ward of Witley, I am making my second maiden speech in this Chamber from the same geographical place. If I may say so, I feel the distinction of making my second maiden speech opposite to the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, who was kind enough to listen to me on the first occasion; and I think the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, who leads for the Opposition, had to undergo that ordeal as well. That speech was about demobilisation policy. I thought it was almost impossible to be controversial about demobilisation policy, but I had underestimated the imagination and nimble-footedness of my then Leader, Mr. Winston Churchill, who, as noble Lords opposite will remember, made that day a different speech from that which we expected of him, so I found myself in controversy with my Leader. I do not think this will happen to-day.
My Lords, I propose to concentrate my remarks on this theme of faster growth of Britain's wealth. Of course I realise the danger of this expression "growth", for what we want is true growth. Quality in this context, as my noble friend the Leader of the House said to us, is every bit as important as quantity. Nevertheless, quite unblushingly I admit to being in favour of a faster rate of growth in our economy than we have achieved in recent years. In my view, that should be a major aim of Government policy, as I 40 am glad to know it is. In the years of which my noble and learned Leader spoke we have expanded our output and our wealth, and we have, in addition, done many other things which many other countries have not done. We have had full employment; we have had a tremendous expansion in our social services; and we have consistently over the years invested in, lent and, indeed, made outright grants to, Commonwealth countries and underdeveloped countries elsewhere. But we have not—and we should face this, I think—expanded our wealth as fast as some people have desired, and many now desire, particularly the younger generation; and we have not expanded our wealth as fast as some other countries in quite different circumstances have been able to do.
I am not concerned this afternoon, my Lords, with the past, the reasons for which are well known to your Lord-ships. It is my simple belief that we now have a very good chance of getting a faster rate of growth without inflation. I say a very good chance, and not a certainty, for it is surely dangerous to be arrogant about economic affairs. I should like to tell the House, quite briefly, why I think there is this very good chance; and perhaps in doing so I may make one or two suggestions about how the chance may be made even better.
First, our economic base is now sound. By that I mean the pound is strong, prices are getting steady, and there is no excessive strain on the nation's resources; indeed, there is some sign of the reverse. Our reserves are much stronger than they were, and I would say much stronger than they look, for it seems to me these days—and I speak as someone trained in banking—that we should take more account of what I might call the overdraft facilities we are able to negotiate with the International Monetary Fund. Our trade gap is much better than it has been, and far better than it looks in what are, I think, the very misleading figures that have been issued for many years by the Board of Trade, which I think I am right in saying quote the imports c.i.f. and the exports f.o.b. We thus get a quite false picture of the real balance of payments in our trade, at a time when it might be important to get a true balance. But I mean more than this when I talk about 41 a sound base, for there have been built into that sound base some factors of real continuing strength. Industry, largely because of the increasing competition with which it has been faced, both at home and overseas, has itself become increasingly competitive; and not only, I think, increasingly competitive but increasingly flexible. The general acceptance of the necessity for an incomes policy is also, in my belief, a factor of continuing strength. I shall refer to both of these points in a moment.
My second reason for optimism is related to the increasing competitiveness of British industry. There is, I think, a greater awareness throughout the country of the importance of efficiency, and I believe an increasing awareness in Government circles of the part they can play in encouraging it. The competitiveness in private industry has not, of course, come about without some help and influence from the Government. The Restrictive Trade Practices Act, the removal of excess demand at home, the reduction of tariffs—all these have helped, and I would guess that there is much more that can be done and will be done. There always will be more to do. It is my belief, too, that the National Economic Development Council will also help efficiency in industry as a whole. I have seen, working in industry myself, the value of the Iron and Steel Board and its activities to the more thorough thinking by managements in the iron and steel industry. I am sure that the proper use of the material produced by "Neddy", as we have learned to call it, will help management generally in the same way.
Another step to greater efficiency which I welcome is the measures that have been taken recently to sharpen up the efficiency of nationalised industries. We cannot expect our national economy to be fully efficient if our basic industries—coal, transport and power—are not themselves fully efficient and fully efficient in economic terms. Having served in another place for four years, as the Chairman of the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries, I am aware both of the tremendous difficulties involved in running these industries and of the real achievement made under the direction of very able men, some of 42 whom are now in your Lordships' House, and one of whom I see sitting opposite me.
I should like to add my humble welcome to a step taken within the Government and announced in the newspapers to-day; I refer to the important changes in the organisation of the Treasury, and the appointments that have been made. I think these changes will greatly help efficiency generally. I cannot help feeling that the two Joint Permanent Secretaries of the Treasury, who are about to end such distinguished careers, must themselves have had a very large part to play in these proposals that look to be so apt for the present problems, and so well designed for the future. There are, of course, many other ways in which the Government can encourage efficiency. Their education programme is an obvious one; the tax system is another. Talking about taxes, I hope that, as the months go by, those taxes which quite manifestly add to the costs of industry—for example, the increase in the oil duty—will be re-examined.
My third reason for confidence is that we have the resources necessary for growth. There has been a tremendous increase in industrial capacity in recent years. It can be argued—indeed, I think it will be argued; and rightly—that we shall need a still higher rate of investment in the future. For change, about which the noble Viscount the Leader of the House spoke, inevitably requires a great deal of capital to pay for it. Certainly we have been increasing the proportion of our resources going to industrial investment in recent years, but we know that in America, for example, the workers in industry have far more capital equipment behind them than they do here. If we are to have increased investment, we must first have increased savings. The absolute essential, if we are to have the increase in savings, is that the pound itself should be sound. Those who have doubts about the general health of Britain's economy should, I believe, pay more attention to the enormous increase in personal savings which we have seen in this country, particularly in the past six years. It is here on this point, as well as on other points, that we can see how false it is to try to argue that it is possible to have growth without stable prices and a stable pound.
43 For some years now I have argued that there is one source of savings in industry which has not been fully tapped, and that is what I might call the small saver, particularly the wage earner. In 1959, with a group of colleagues, I helped to produce a report entitled Every Man a Capitalist. I still consider that the Government can do more to encourage further savings by wage earners, and the investment of those savings in industry, whether on a unit trust principle or in some other way. That would increase the savings available for industry and might, as a result, reduce the amount of surplus for which the Chancellor at present feels bound to budget; and it would at the same time link more of our countrymen more closely with the prosperity of great industrial firms. There is, I think, one resource of which we have been constantly short since the war, and that is skilled manpower. I was therefore very glad to read what the Prime Minister had to say on July 26 about the training of young people and of adults.
My fourth reason for confidence is the wide acceptance of the idea of an incomes policy. There is nothing new, I think, about the idea that incomes in the nation as a whole should not rise faster than real output in the nation as a whole. There was nothing absolutely new in the idea of the pay pause, although I think it is fair to say that the determination with which it was pushed through was new. The immediately new idea is the Incomes Commission, which has already been christened "Nick". I do not know, my Lords, whether it is wise or not that a Commission of this importance should have a "Nickname". But I welcome the setting up of this Commission and all that my noble Leader has said about it. In my belief, the National Incomes Commission is designed to make the nation richer, and not poorer. It is not a weapon against any body of our people: it is an imaginative, new instrument designed to tackle the most intractable problems in a modern, closely-knit society. Too long, perhaps, we have hoped to escape from that problem.
I have two more points that I should like to make, I hope without overstraining your Lordships' patience. My next 44 reason for confidence is the overseas trade position. The rate at which we can expand our exports does, of course, govern the rate at which our economy can grow. Exports are increasing, have been increasing for the past several months, and, I hope, will go on increasing for several months more. Whether they will continue to do so afterwards depends partly on our continued competitiveness, about which I have great hopes, and partly on world trade conditions—for, as we have been reminded this afternoon, growth is indeed international.
So we come to the importance of the right Western international policies, and particularly to the importance of the right policies about world liquidity. I was very glad to read what the Prime Minister said on Thursday last about the importance of finding the right method of financing increased world trade. None of us in your Lordships' House who is connected with industry would deny that there is around us in industry and in financial circles a feeling of some uncertainty about the future. It would be stupid to think that the policy of Her Majesty's Government, or of any Government, is alone responsible for all the feeling of uncertainty which exists outside this country as well as inside it. Part of that feeling of uncertainty is due, no doubt, to the protracted—and necessarily protracted—negotiations for entry into the Common Market; part to world trade conditions and to events in the United States; and part, too, I think, to the fall-off in orders, particularly in the heavier side of our industry—and, connected with this, the undoubted fact that at the present the return on investment in our heavy capital goods industries is not high.
There is both a short-term problem for us at home and a long-term problem, too. The short-term problem is when to remove some of the remaining squeeze weapons and additional taxes imposed to create a down-turn in activities at home. The long-term problem, which, I think, is just as important, is to make it more certain that the highest rewards in industry can be earned from those activities which expand the nation's productive wealth and are responsible for increased exports, rather than from the very important yet rather more subsidiary activities. 45 My last reason for optimism relates to the question: has the British nation the will to grow, and with it the willingness to accept the consequences of faster growth? I think there are signs that our nation has this will and this willingness. The nation as a whole wishes to be on terms with other countries in improving our own standard of life and in helping other nations to improve theirs. I believe that there is a greater willingness to try to understand the real facts of economic life. The Press, television and so on, have all helped in this, and I believe that my right honourable friends in another place and my noble Leader here should take advantage of this in the way in which they publish to our people the basic facts about our changing economic circumstances. There is a Treasury Bulletin for Industry which many of us in industry read carefully. I think there should be a Treasury Bulletin for the nation.
My Lords, I believe that it is a mistake, and dangerous, to foster false conflicts in arguments about economic affairs. It is my belief that stability of the pound and of prices, and of our economy at home, is not in conflict with the faster rate of growth that I and many others want. My Lords, four-and-a-half years ago I was speaking in another place in an economic debate, and I made the same point. A well-known satirist who wrote then in a weekly paper described me as a "mugwump", with my "mug" on one side of the fence and my "wump" on the other. I do not think that that satirist had recently looked at his dictionary. A "mugwump" is defined in my dictionary, first, as a great man or boss. That was most inappropriate. In my Concise Oxford Dictionary, it is defined as "a person affecting superiority to party politics". On this occasion, my Lords, I have done my best not to affect superiority to Party politics, but simply to be fair.
§ 4.48 p.m.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
My Lords, it falls to my pleasant lot to offer to the noble Lord, Lord Aldington, who has just sat down, and who, if he will not mind my saying so, is known to most of us affectionately as "Toby Low", congratulations upon an outstanding maiden speech. It was not controversial so far as I was concerned—principally, 46 perhaps, because I agreed with most of what he said. It gives me pleasure to congratulate him and to welcome him here because, as he so rightly says, he comes from a background of banking and industry. I myself come from a background of banking and industry, but my experience of banking was on the other side of the counter to his. But it is a pleasure, and a very rare pleasure—all too rare a pleasure for your Lordships' House to-day—to listen to an informed speech by a banker and an industrialist. There was a time when, on the debate on the Finance Bill, the speakers were all bankers and industrialists; there were very few politicians and very few economists. That was the day when we heard sound sense talked in your Lordships' House upon these great issues. I should like to voice a minor protest about our bankers and our industrialists being elevated to the peerage and then absenting themselves from this House: secure, I suppose, in honours for past services, but never thinking that they have a duty to the country in the future. So I am so sincere when I say to the noble Lord that we all hope, I am sure, that we shall hear him many times in the future—highly controversial, I hope, as I know he can be, but always well-informed, as he has been this afternoon.
I intend to follow the noble Lord upon this question of growth, because I think that is the one thing that confronts us to-day. In many of these discussions, and taking into consideration international factors, we lose sight of the fact that we are, for our size, the greatest industrialised country in the world. It is by industry we live, and at the present time our industries are in sore distress. I must be frank. While I share the admiration of the noble Viscount the Leader of the House for the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, I never agreed with his policy, and I think he was largely to blame for the impasse in which we find ourselves to-day. When I say, "He was to blame", I mean he was to blame in not standing up to the real culprits; and, my Lords, I will be equally frank with you and tell you who in my view they are, or were: the Treasury. It is the dead hand of the Treasury, who from first to last, ever since I have taken any interest in industry, finance or economics, have 47 always had a restrictionist outlook. I have said this in your Lordships' House: whenever they have wanted to do anything they have always gone to see what the children were doing and tell them not to—"You cannot do this; you must not do that"; and if there is one thing this country desires to-day and out of which only can we live, it is an expansionist policy.
Since this Motion was put on the Order Paper there have been changes, and radical Changes, in the Treasury—of course, nothing to do with the Government changes, we are hastened to be assured. All I can say is that it was a very fortuitous coincidence, and I wish them well. But I suggest to the noble Viscount that there are one or two lessons we have to learn. We have to learn them, the Government have to learn them, and the Treasury have to learn them, because while the noble Viscount put a great deal of responsibility upon the people of the country, the Government are collectively responsible for the unhappy state of industry to-day. I am not making a Party political speech. Industry has a lack of confidence in the Government, and, to use a popular expression, they are punch drunk.
My Lords, let us go back twelve months to last July. While Cabinet Ministers were stumping this country exhorting industry to work harder, to become more competitive, to decrease their costs and increase their efficiency, what did they do? The Chancellor of the Exchequer put a tax of twopence a gallon on oil, after the Minister of Power had assured the oil industry that the Government would do nothing of the kind. That put up the production costs of the steel industry and the chemical industry alone by £38 million. The noble Loud, Lord Aldington, knows that, and what it added to transport costs and to the cost of living. There was the 10 per cent. regulator that could be pushed in and pulled out at the Chancellor's whim. That was after something in the region of another £30 million was advanced to the motor industry alone to go into various areas of this country and expand, and expand for the purpose of mopping up pockets of unemployment. And as soon as they had laid their plans, 48 what happened? The purchase tax on their goods was increased by 10 per cent., which prevented them from getting rid of their output.
Now, my Lords, what are we to make of that? That has been the restrictionist attitude that we have had to contend with—the Paish doctrine, that what we wanted as an economic policy in this country was the creation of excess capacity. All right, my Lords, we have got it; and what are we going to do about it? We were saying that always the slogan went forward that there was too much money chasing too few goods. Now we have too much capacity chasing too few orders. We are told we must increase production. We cannot increase production until we have increased demand that will provide the orders to be fulfilled. I am sorry, my Lords; this is rather elementary; it is fourteen-year-old schoolboy economics; but it has not dawned upon the Treasury that once you start cutting down home consumption you succeed only in putting your export costs up; and that is the trouble to-day. Our exports in volume are going on very nicely, but we are losing money on them; and the home market, which has always had to find the profits to subsidise the export market, is stagnating. Because it is stagnating nobody will invest his money, and you get that vicious circle all the way round, because we have been tied to a policy of damped down demand.
There is no such thing in an economy such as this country's as excess demand; there is only shortage of production. It is by the natural ambition of people to acquire more goods and have a higher standard of living that the demand is created which production can fulfil. No, my Lords; there was no excess of real demand. Where the excess came in was a fictitious excess of incomes and the really scandalous behaviour of sections of the banking world who threw over all sense and reason and started a hire purchase system in this country which eventually succeeded in losing them the best part of about £25 million.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
It serves them right, I quite agree. It is not only the avaricious worker who is at fault in demanding higher wages. It 49 paid, in an era of supply being short of demand, for an auction sale to go on in this country between the employers, to pay high wages. I can only hope that NIC is going to look after that. I do not see how it is going to happen, because there is no sanction; but do not forgot that to-day the unemployment figures which are published by the Ministry of Labour are entirely fictitious. They reflect no true estimate of the employment of labour, because if you added to the totally unemployed registered at the Labour Exchange the under-employment and the concealed unemployment in factories it would come to an alarming extent. But I agree with the noble Lord and the noble Viscount that world growth is what we have to aim at.
My Lords, I do not want to touch upon the international situation, because I do not understand it completely, and I do not think there are many people in the world who do. The noble Viscount who leads the House said something to the effect: If we all deflate, what of growth? One of the evils of this world is that every country wants to deflate, to keep the value of its currency up, irrespective of the fact that it might beggar the internal economy to do it. Every country wants cream at the front door, and it does not matter whether the larder is bare. It is not a case of keeping up with the Joneses, but of an international keeping up with the Kennedys. How long that is going to last, I do not know; and I do not think the President of the United States knows, either.
There is one other criticism I should like to make. This is really the only point at which I mention the Finance Bill. Of all the stupid things for a Chancellor of the Exchequer and a Government to do, the bringing in of the capital gains tax in the manner they did was the most stupid. I mention this only in passing, in order to make a point, because the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie of Dundee, the Chairman of the Stock Exchange, is going to follow me. This tax was brought in allegedly as a piece of social justice. As it lost the fixed income long-term investor millions of pounds, I cannot quite see where the social justice comes in. If it was intendded to buy over the trade union movement, it was the silliest thing to do, because 50 the trade union movement is far too hard-headed to be bought over to serve on a national economic council by a gesture such as that. "Never buy your opponents; always encourage your friends", is a good motto for a position of this kind.
I would ask the noble Earl who is going to reply one question. The Prime Minister, in his speech in another place, made a passing reference to restrictive practices. Molony has come out with a Report, which I shall only mention because I expect that it will be debated in your Lordships' House in the near future and which says that the safeguard of the shopper is competition. Yet the Government appear still to be burking the issue of resale price maintenance. Why? Is it vote catching? Is it to pander to the small shopkeeper? Because I could argue that resale price maintenance is the last remaining thing on the shopper's list to be done away with.
May I suggest to the noble Earl what the Government will have to do? This is a crucial point. We cannot afford to delay for a sufficient period to save the face of the Government. It is useless for the Prime Minister to sack the Chancellor of the Exchequer and in the next breath say that, of course, his policy will go marching on. We must stimulate demand in this country. We must get back the confidence of industry. Without industry we cannot survive for very long. We must give up this "Pull and push, Stop and go," economic policy. We cannot slow down a huge machine like British industry to the depths it is in to-day and think that it is going to start up again overnight to be the same as it was four or five years ago. We cannot afford the time. I hope that the Government will take notice of this. As the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, said, they have lost the confidence of industry and of the electorate, and that confidence is going to take a lot of getting back. I hope they will do so, because industry cannot go on at the tempo at which it is now moving. An expansionist policy is the only policy by which this country can survive. As a chart in The Times showed the other day, the purchasing power of the pound has gone lower and lower, because we have followed a restrictive policy instead of an expansionist one.
§ 5.7 p.m.
LORD RITCHIE OF DUNDEE
My Lords, in the first place, I hope that I may be allowed to associate myself with what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, has said in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Aldington, and to express the hope that we shall have the pleasure of hearing him in your Lordships' House on a number of occasions. I propose to keep the House for no more than a few moments on one particular point. I thought it was only right that there should be stated exactly whore it-he Stock Exchange stands with regard to the tax on short-term gains, the cause of our deep anxiety and how it could largely be remedied. Probably our views are fairly widely known, but I think that it is right that they should be placed on (record in your Lordships' House in the course of this important debate this afternoon. Therefore, if I may, I should like to state briefly the history of the matter.
Your Lordships will recall clearly that it was almost exactly a year ago that the then Chancellor of the Exchequer announced, among other things, that he proposed to introduce in due course a short-term gains tax. At that time I am sure he indicated that he had in mind that such gains would be treated as income. There is no doubt that the moment this was said, there was a great deal of anxiety in the City, in the business world and in the Stock Exchange in particular. Our anxiety in the Stock Exchange was chiefly based on the question of what form the tax would take. We come to the latter part of last year. Early in December, we in the Stock Exchange prepared a memorandum. Some of my colleagues and I called upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer and met him and some of his colleagues. We placed our argument before him. The burden of our argument was an urgent plea that the tax should be imposed in such a form as to do the least possible damage to the marketability of securities dm this country. We explained that the least damaging form of tax would be a flat percentage rate of tax. We assumed that it would not be at a penal rate. And we explained that the most damaging effect would be caused by bringing the gains into the scale of income tax and surtax.
52 We felt that we were justified in saying this and in considering ourselves as exports in some respect. At least, we had some expert knowledge of the probable effect of the tax—we, who deal day in, day out, year in, year out, in stocks and shares. We really do know what we are talking about.
I have said that we recommended a percentage rate of tax at a non-penal rate. What is the effect of the present proposals? The effect is this: that a, man who pays no income tax or a negligible rate of income tax because his income is small pays no tax ox a negligible rate of tax on what might be a quite substantial capital gain; whereas a man with a high rate of tax pays at a rate of close on 90 per cent. I am fully aware that there are many people in all walks of life who are in favour of a tax on gains of this kind; many arguments can be marshalled in favour of it; but, quite frankly, I can find none in favour of a tax which has the effect of stopping business altogether and which indeed defeats its own object because it produces little or no revenue. Because that is the effect, my Lords. The man who perhaps earns a large income, who perhaps has capital in industry, will not pay large slices of tax on his large capital gains. He will not pay any tax at all because he simply will not deal. No one is going to be so foolish as to take a risk with the prospect of keeping 10 per cent. if he is right. That is the result of this proposed tax. As I have said, little or no revenue will come in, business will not have been done, and the market, which needs the business in order to keep turnover going to keep the market free, will have been deprived of it.
May I, for one moment, just turn to one other aspect of this subject. It seems to many of us in the City, and certainly in the Stock Exchange, that the moment of time chosen to introduce the tax in this form could not possibly be worse. It comes at a time when we in the Stock Exchange in particular are striving to restore to its full vigour the international aspect of our market. We have the prospect of the Common Market; we are engaged from time to time in conferences with the other Stock Exchanges in Europe and elsewhere, and we feel, my Lords, that this is something which, if brought in, is 53 going to do most serious damage to our efforts. May I say, in passing, that I am fully aware of the fact that residents abroad are not liable to this tax? There, again, I have the feeling that quite a number of people are going to discover that they have a lot of extremely useful aunts and other relatives in places like the Republic of Ireland and elsewhere. I am fully aware that this tax is not payable by residents overseas. But that is not the point. The point is that the market in which we are trying to get people from overseas to come and deal may well become an unreal and emasculated market.
I think I have said before that the City of London did not reach its pre-eminence in the past through taxation and restriction; quite the reverse. The merchants and bankers came to London from Europe because of its freedom. May I just say this in closing, and I say it with great sincerity and with the greatest emphasis I can command? I am not making a piece of special pleading for the Stock Exchange—that is to say, for those of us who get our living by dealing in stocks and shares; I am not making a piece of special pleading for stockholders; but I am making a most urgent and sincere plea to Her Majesty's Government to reconsider at this eleventh hour and to alter the method of imposing this tax so that the invaluable machine of the stock market can work smoothly once again.
The noble Lord, Lord Aldington, said just now that change requires a great deal of capital. Where is it coming from? Let there be no misunderstanding: this is not an affair which is just the concern of some business people, of "someone in the City"; it is a matter which will have the most deep effect on industry in its essential raising of capital for development. It is a matter which will affect the national economy, and, in varying degrees, directly or indirectly, every man or woman in this country. My Lords, put the tax on a reasonable percentage basis. Honour would be satisfied, revenue would be obtained and the free market in securities in this country, which is of enormous importance to us all, would be restored.
§ 5.16 p.m.
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, I would join with others who have spoken in 54 congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Aldington, on his second maiden speech in this Chamber, delivered, as have so many recent speeches, from almost the same place as an earlier maiden speech seventeen years before. The excellence of the noble Lord's speech did not, of course, surprise any of his former colleagues, and I look forward to hearing from him again on many occasions. I was particularly pleased by his reference to the position of the nationalised basic industries, to which I myself should like to refer a little later on in my speech. We are, indeed, all indebted to him for his work on the Select Committee on the Nationalised Industries with whose conclusions I find myself in almost complete agreement. Indeed, I could support almost all the noble Lord's reasons for optimism in the speech he has delivered were it not for the fact, made so clear by the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie of Dundee, that in almost any situation the Government tackle, when attempting to do the right thing they almost always seem to do it in the wrong way. Therefore, the only optimism that I could share with the noble Lord, Lord Aldington, is with the grounds for it; but it will be realised only when we have another Government.
The noble and learned Viscount, Lord Hailsham, delivered a speech which was, I feel, compounded part of basic truth and part of heart-felt appeal. I hope that his speech will be read, understood and appreciated throughout the country, but I hope he will forgive me for saying that I felt all the time that the address at which it should be most fervently and continually delivered was Admiralty House; and that he might well have been speaking to the Cabinet. At least, I hope he was; particularly when he called for integrity, resolution, common sense and clarity; and particularly when he said that we must "snap out of it if we want to go places." If anyone in this country needs to be told forcibly and continually to "snap out of it if we want to go places" it is the members of Her Majesty's Government. Because, whatever the noble and learned Viscount said that we can agree with, about the kind of situation he would like to see—and which most of us on these Benches would like to see—the situation from which we start, a situation largely created by Her Majesty's 55 Government over the last eleven years, is a very different one. Because of that it makes us view his hopes with a particularly jaundiced eye.
It seems to me that to-day the economic situation is dominated by two political questions. The first is: who is Prime Minister? If course the present position surely is similar to the Ramsey Macdonald-Baldwin situation in the early 1930's, when we had two Prime Ministers, one with the title and the other with the power. The second political question is, will the Prime Minister, or Prime Ministers, do what the noble and learned Viscount wants—serve Britain? Or will they try to buy votes. And I think that is still anybody's guess. Because no one could pretend that the re-issue of a few modest ideas which the Conservative Party first produced in 1947 will add a pound's worth to our production or exports. Even the Daily Telegraph called the proposed new policy a "half-groomed cat."
It is scarcely credible, despite the protestations we have heard, that Mr. Selwyn Lloyd would have been sacked if the Government did not intend to pursue to some extent an inflationary policy. Yet consider this extract from the speech of a Conservative M.P. which was made as recently as last March:Keep on with the Pay Pause. Keep down home demand with a tough Budget. In 1959, we threw away the advantages gained from tough policies. The Government will have a lot to answer for if we make the same mistake in 1962.That was said by Mr. du Cann who has just been made Economic Secretary to the Treasury. Apparently he has been promoted for advocating the very policy which Mr. Lloyd was sacked for pursuing. No wonder The Times City page the other day carried a headline "Confusion worse confounded"! And it is small wonder that among industrialists, as has been made clear by almost every speaker in the debate, there is to-day less confidence in our economic future than for many years.
As for the workers, their living standards have been actually reduced in the last twelve months. The cost of living has gone up 6 per cent. and their earnings, their paper earnings, by only 2½ per cent. Unemployment, about which the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of 56 Chilworth, said the figures were unreal, stands at over 400,000, and if you add the numbers of those who will soon be leaving school the total may well reach half a million. The recent slackness in bank lending is another sure sign that industry is not so keen to borrow capital for investment purposes. The question of confidence has been mentioned several times, and I do not think it was ever more clearly shown than in The Times account of Mr. Maudling's meeting with the National Production Advisory Council on Industry. According to The Times, the meeting resolved itself into a demonstration of little or no faith by industrialists in the immediate future under present Government policies. And The Times added:This is the most certain indication yet of the true state of industry and Mr. Maudling cannot have failed to have been impressed by the note of despondency he heard.Another newspaper reported on the very rough handling which the Members of the N.E.D.C. have given Government Ministers, particularly on the kind of soporifics that were put before the Council, in particular, one paper submitted by the Treasury on "General Obstacles to Economic Growth". The Government are the biggest obstacle to economic growth, because they have persistently pursued policies which have handicapped and stultified industry. But in his speech last Thursday in another place, Mr. Macmillan said nothing at all which had any bearing on increased production or exports; and he gave no sign that he is aware that, under his leadership, our export record has been the worst in Europe. All we get is the frequently repeated platitude that wages must not rise faster than production. But for two years the Government have deliberately held production down. Why talk of incomes rising with production if, through sheer incompetence, you dare not allow production to rise?
This stagnation is not the fault of British industry. For seven years they have suffered the frustrations of stop and go, of artificial stimulation followed by arbitrary restrictions. How can they have confidence in an Administration which, by insisting that the way to cut costs is to reduce production, flouts basic economic principles? How can they believe in a Government which can never make a complete plan and cuts even a partial one before it is fairly started? I 57 should like to give what I regard as an important example of the way that Government policy, or lack of it, hamstrings industry. For that I would draw your Lordships' attention to the acute problems arising in the great electrical manufacturing industry, which occupies a key position in the national economy.
The Report of the British Electrical and Allied Manufacturers' Association indicates that last year they sold £1,700 million worth of products and exported more than £300 million worth. The industry is our third largest exporter and stands third among the world's exporters of electrical equipment. As the supplier of more than one third of our entire home capital equipment, its prosperity and efficiency will in some considerable measure determine the country's future prosperity and economic growth. Developments in electronics and the progressive requirements of the electricity supply industry make necessary major investment in plant and research.
Over the last ten years this has involved capital expenditure of £380 million, plus a research and development programme which is now running at £70 million a year. That is an indication of the size of the effort which is being made by the industry to maintain progressive efficiency. Indeed, the leading firms can and do compete successfully anywhere in the world. But unfortunately their earnings expressed as a percentage of capital employed are declining catastrophically. In seven years they have dropped by 50 per cent. and are now at such a low level that they cannot finance major modernisation and research and expansion out of earnings and cannot look for capital on the market because the likely level of interest is too low to attract investors. We have in fact arrived at the position where, unless there is an improvement, further major developments which are vital to the nation's economy cannot take place.
This problem, of course, confronts other basic industries, and it has arisen because the Government have encouraged less essential industries which, because their earnings are higher, can get all the capital they need. The publicly owned electricity supply industry is charged with the duty of providing a substantial part of its capital needs out of surpluses. Parliament has been 58 given details of the total net surplus which must be earned in the next five years, and it is recognised that prices charged for electricity must be adequate to ensure this. Indeed, tariff increases have been forecast. Electrical manufacturers in the private sector are not, and of course should not be, able to solve their problems in this way. But the Government must provide the framework within which efficient firms can earn sufficient surpluses to finance badly needed capital developments and to attract further investment capital.
The first essential in this framework is stability. It is significant that electrical machinery is among the first industries selected by the N.E.D.C. for national planning and their recommendations may be looked for by the end of the year.
However, it is worse than useless to approve a plan and then subject it to the process of stop and go. These key industries which depend on technological progress must know something about expected home demand for at least five years ahead and they must be able to plan their programmes accordingly. There must be reasonable assurance that once the plan is approved it will be allowed to proceed without major change, because long-term investment will not increase while the future is a Government contrived lottery. For the last ten years manufacturers of domestic electrical appliances have been the whipping boys for the Government's economic errors. Sudden arbitrary changes in purchase tax and hire purchase conditions have wrecked their basic home markets and thus endangered exports. The recent reduction in hire purchase deposits has been an encouragement, and it has given them a chance to heal their wounds and build up again. But they need assurance that the present levels of deposit will be maintained. I say deliberately "maintained", not "reduced", not "increased", because an unforgivable pre-election free-for-all would do as much damage as the heavier restrictions which would inevitably follow it. British industries of course cannot expect immunity from changes in world trade, but they have a right to expect a stable Government policy within which they can play their full part at home and abroad.
59 The second essential in the industrial framework is abandonment by the Government of a dear money policy as almost the only escape weapon in balance-of-payments difficulties. A 7 per cent. bank rate is a desperate and expensive form of surgery, which would be quite unnecessary if we kept British industry in a healthy condition through proper planning. Moreover, just because they cannot afford high interest rates it hurts most the major technological and basic industries on which our whole future depends. The need for stability and access to capital at reasonable cost are common to all major industries, but there are special problems which will become particularly acute if we enter the Common Market. One of these is the manufacture of generating plant and transmission equipment for the electricity supply authority, whose need in 1966, four years hence, will be double the present level. The demand will not only be greater but different, because most of the orders will then be for generators not of 60 but of 500 megawatts. For these the Government agency, the Central Electricity Generating Board, will be the sole customer, and thus they, and not the manufacturers, will have the entire decision about the demand.
The whole of this anticipated demand can be met by the four British firms who alone have the plant and the technical resources to produce generators of this size. Their total manufacturing capacity will be adequate for these anticipated requirements. But in any one year only perhaps three out of the four would get an order for a major power station. In a five-year programme they will get two orders each. So far, so good. We have the plant and presumably it will be employed. But suppose, when we join the Common Market, the Continental giants come in. If, for example, A.E.G. or Siemens get an order for a major British power station, then the whole pattern of demand in this industry will be disrupted; and, of course, outside Europe there are few potential overseas purchasers for stations of this size.
The point is that if our home market is to be open, then the countries of the Six must also be truly open—not just open on paper. I think we should ask for proof of this before believing that 60 it will be so. Indeed it was recently made clear by the countries of the Six that even within the Common Market now, the time is not yet ripe for the abandonment of the "policy of preferring the national supplies of major items of plant". Our supply industry is nationalised; the Continental ones, apart from France, are not. Will it be our policy to put our contracts out to European tender and will the Six really do the same, or will this be just another one of these international agreements where only Britain keeps to the rules and the others smilingly evade them?
It is said that nothing concentrates a man's thoughts so much as the knowledge that he is to be hanged. British industry, I am certain, is ready and able to accept the challenge of the Common Market. But some British industries who fear that they are about to be hanged want to be sure that they are going to have a fair chance to fight for their lives. We must not go into Europe with handicaps of our own making. One handicap under which we suffer in competing with Continental manufacturers is the banning of certain co-operative agreements which are banned under the Restrictive Trade Practices Act. Of course the Act is necessary and beneficial, and everybody supports it; but I think there is urgent need for looking again at the somewhat narrow definitions in Section 21 of what can be regarded as the public interest.
Recently we had to pass a Bill to legalise certain wholly desirable arrangements among home timber growers; and in industry there are many similar cases of arrangements which, in the broad sense of the term, are in the public interest but are at present barred by the Act. It was apparently drafted so as to make the question of public interest justiciable. But this has been so in other matters for many years and the Monopolies Commission have always been able to make up their mind on this point. So I think that here is something that can be looked at again, if necessary by means of a suitable amendment or, in the case of agreements which the Government themselves are convinced are proved to be necessary in the public interest, that they should support the industries concerned in convincing the court that they are in the public interest.
61 I submit that if the Government really believe in, as does the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Hailsham, and if they are really concerned for, our country's future, they will rely not on vote-catching gimmicks but on British industry. They will restore shaken confidence by announcing a firm determination to advance production by 4 per cent., or, if it is possible, even by 5 per cent. a year, on lines which are being worked out and which I hope before long will be recommended by N.E.D.C.; and that they will give a pledge that if the pressure of world economic events brings currency difficulties they will not stop the plan in a panic and impose a dear money policy again, but that they will go the other way, our way, the only sensible way, by limiting imports of those things we can best do without.
I trust, too, that they will ascertain the particular difficulties of different industries and do their best to remove them. Above all—this should really be put first—if you are going to harness the complete thought and activity and goodwill of the whole country behind the effort, then when, according to circumstances, rewards are available or sacrifices required, the Government will see to it that they are fairly shared by the Whole community. I think it was implicit in Lord Hailsham's speech that in many ways these are exciting times. Exciting times demand bold and exciting policies. If the Government cannot provide them, they should give place to those who will.
§ 5.40 p.m.
§ LORD BARNBY
My Lords, we have had an enjoyable analysis from the noble Lord, Lord Stonham. May some of his points be an inspiration to the new Chancellor of the Exchequer! The noble Lord properly criticised aspects of Government policy. That is our privilege in this House. I was surprised, however, that in his overall condemnation of the Government for impeding industry during the last eighteen months, he did not seize on the criticism which some of us advanced from this side of the House, that it might well be that they have been misled into thinking that shutting down on the home demand might increase the export demand, because in fact that is one of the problems which is clearly debatable.
62 One or two decades ago it was customary Finance Bill as not worth while intervening upon, since this House has no power of revision on a Money Bill. But to-day things are changing. A long list of speakers has shown that we intend to retain the privilege of this House to express its views on financial policy, indicating at this moment assent for or dissent from what has come out of the wisdom of another place in the Finance Bill. We have heard an exposition from our noble Leader, a speech which was full of the lucidity and fluency to which we have become habituated. I myself enjoyed very much the analysis of the climate of thought in the country which he saw fit to make, and the sentences which he used appealed to me very much. He said that we need integrity and common sense rather than doctrinaire orthodoxy; that we may be suffering from rigidity in industry and inefficiency; but that the Government's policies would not be motivated by popularity but by the facts of life. Well, for the rest, his speech covered, in general terms, the main aspects of thought in the Bill. There have been several speeches dealing with the wader financial policy, and at a moment when a new Chancellor of the Exchequer has taken office it is open to all of us to raise such points as we think might have been dealt with differently in the past.
It is my intention, briefly, to refer to a few particular points. The first is in regard to depreciation allowances. It has been urged from many quarters that, supplementary to initial and investment allowances, there should be more generous statutory depreciation allowances. This has already been recognised in North America and in Canada, and generous concessions have been given to particular industries, in particular to the textile industry. It is obvious that this will stimulate managements to make replacements. This is justified by the higher speed of mechanical invention, which brings about inevitable obsolescence of machinery much more rapidly than the statutory calculations on which our taxation system is based. This, of course, will increase competitiveness, and, in turn, will reduce the number of bodies employed in any particular task.
63 The matter of purchase tax has been so strongly pressed from many quarters, both inside and outside Parliament, that I think there is no need to say very much more about it now. Basically, to increase purchase tax on essential clothing and to give a reduction on semi-luxuries is the most astonishing political procedure. It cannot be based upon financial reasons, because the actual receipts as budgeted for show a reduction rather than an increase. I would declare my interest in the textile industry, where this policy is resented very much because we believe it is against the interests of the Government in their drive to increase exports. I should like to quote the following resolution passed by the National Association of Textile Trade Unions:That this Association deplores the recent increase in purchase tax on clothing. Being opposed in principle to any purchase tax on clothing, it regards the increase as indefensible and likely to have a detrimental effect on the textile industry in present circumstances. Accordingly, it calls upon the Government to abolish the tax.I hope that that will come tinder the eye of the new Chancellor of the Exchequer.
To turn now to the Restrictive Trade Practices Act, an Act which attracted so much opposition in this House as well as in another place, some of its clauses undoubtedly operate in a detrimental way in many industries. Again I declare my interest in the textile industry. In the wool textile industry, for instance, it has compelled the abandonment of sensible agreements which gave stability to the industry, and this has now brought about confusion. Factually, the circumstances are that for an amount of l½d. a pound of wool manufactured there has been this disruption; it aggregates a maximum of 6d. on a suit of clothes. Can that be declared an exploitation of the consumer when it disrupts an industry?
It leads me to make a point which was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie of Dundee, in regard to capital gains tax. I think we are all grateful that the noble Lord, speaking with the authority he does, has come along to this House to-day and given his views as to what the effect of that tax would be. I refer to it because I believe there is a climate of reasoning in the country 64 to-day which tends to condemn the profit motive in industry as a Whole. How is it possible, as Lord Ritchie of Dundee said, for companies who cannot make a reasonable profit to go to the market and get fresh capital with which to give increasing employment? It is a most dangerous philosophy which is gaining strength in the country. There must be a separation of profits, otherwise how are we going to gat replacement of machinery in order to maintain efficiency?
We have heard much to-day about export incentives, and that exhortations and more practical incentives would bring more promising results. It is true, as was said, that if there were blatant examples of subsidy there might be a retaliation. But, surely, there are incentives that could be embarked upon without the risk of a hampering retaliation. I can think of one the other day. There was a loan of 60 million dollars by the United States to Brazil for the import by Brazil of merchandise manufactured in the United States. It was a loan, free of interest, for 40 years. There was also a subsidy of £1 million on a ship built in France. Surely those are export incentives. In yesterday's paper I read:Australian exporters have earned well over 1 million in rebates of payroll tax, through the export incentive scheme introduced last year by the Federal Government. Those who substantially increase their export sales are entitled to the rebate.Exports below cost produce no benefit to the Exchequer. Too often such exports attract an exports credit guarantee, which may well increase the cost of export.
It appears to me that we must abide in patience to see what are the overall economic intentions of the Government in the re-arranged thinking on finance. Supporters of the Government certainly respect the vigour with which they have applied the necessary measures to improve our balance of payments, however great the unpopularity of those measures. But no facts deny that the terms of trade continue in our favour, and therefore are against our customers who in the main are primary producers. The balance of payments appears to be in our favour, thanks to the attraction of overseas funds. Our invisible earnings appear to be shrinking in a way that dismays us. Our costs of production 65 continue to rise. Perhaps our thoughts should turn to the increasing costs of some aspects of the Welfare State. One thing, at any rate, seems sure: industry as a whole is materially flagging. The F.B.I. questionnaire proves that. Our order books are running down faster than new business is being booked, and unused capacity is increasing. The consumer is becoming shy of new commitments and even of day-to-day spending. Indeed, this is a setting for inspired imagination by the new Chancellor of the Exchequer.
§ 5.53 p.m.
My Lords, my noble Leader has given us a fine oration, full of the most forward-looking philosophy, which I shall enjoy studying in greater detail. I do wish, though, that he would just have examined for himself the economic consequences of deflation, in an economy financed to such a large extent by the profits of trade and industry. I think he might find this rather alarming when he looks at it more closely. I did not hear the whole speech of the noble Lord, Lord Aldington, but I arrived in time to discover that he was an optimist, and that he thought growth was compatible with the strength of the pound. I was pleased to hear that. In fact, I should have thought that the strength of the pound was not compatible with lack of growth, in the long run.
Finding myself alongside my noble friend Lord Ritchie of Dundee, carries me back nearly fifty years, when I think he was right-back and I was left-back in our school football eleven. We were a very fine pair. Every word he said about the capital gains tax is, in my opinion, entirely true. I have always been one who was willing to have a capital gains tax, in exchange for a complete revision of the surtax rates on the higher incomes; and, moreover, a capita] gains tax at a reasonable rate. In the result, we have a capital gains tax at absurd rates, and we have not got the all round revision of the surtax on the higher incomes. Therefore I look at the situation in much the same light as the noble Lord does himself, and I can confirm from experience in other commodities that the one thing that stops sharp fluctuations in the market is to have a body of speculators who are willing 66 to step in at short notice, either selling short or buying long, who even out the fluctuations for the ordinary buyers and sellers.
In our ordinary economic affairs, we are all activated by the same motives. We want the growth, and at the same time we want to banish all the bogies, the exchange crises, unemployment, rising prices and so on. So far nobody has succeeded in attaining this happy state of perfection, and it is just possible that it is unattainable. Nevertheless, we want to go on groping, because we feel that just around the corner the happy state may exist. It is rather like trying to discover which came first, the chicken or the egg, the growth or the monetary expansion.
In our present circumstances, there appear to be roughly two schools of thought, and eminent economists are lined up on each side. One says that if you ensure that the home market is subdued, industrialists will cut prices, their profits will be squeezed, they will be forced to seek markets abroad and so secure our exports and the balance of trade; and, at the same time, the squeeze on the profits will make them fight vigorously against any unreasonable wage and salary demands, so the incomes will be kept down. The other school believes that by reducing the turnover of industry you are adding costs to each item produced, and that, so far from being a stimulus to exports, this is a handicap; that the squeeze on profits will diminish Government revenue and, in the end, enforce increased taxation, and that this will, in its turn, act as a stimulus to wage demands, which will have to be met to an extent that will bear much harder on each unit of production than larger wage demands would bear in a state of full-capacity production.
The position is still further complicated, by the fact that the foreign holders of sterling would like to pick bits out of the economic arguments on each side—in other words, they want to have their cake and eat it. Like all of us, they want the best of both worlds. Moreover, it does not mean that there are not occasions on which each theory can be right. The Treasury advisers appear to have plumped for the first theory in recent times, and we are all well aware 67 of the advantages that are claimed for it But it has brought disadvantages, too, and I personally think it is high time to go on the Other tack. Rightly or wrongly, the late Chancellor was identified with the first doctrine, and I greatly welcome the new Chancellor whom I suspect to be more sympathetic to the other doctrine. He is certainly a man who can hold his own in economic arguments with any of his advisers.
He has a colossal task. What should be his first and main preoccupation? As I see it, his first priority is to get the international payments position straight—and I may tell your Lordships that that comment was prepared before I read the Sunday papers. I believe that the late Professor Keynes is on record as saying that in the post-war world we should be unable to allow free capital movements across the exchanges. If he did give that advice (and I am not quite sure), then we have ignored it, and we have not created a system by which his advice can be ignored. We have at the moment a position whereby, if a foreigner removes his capital from a country, thus reducing its foreign debt, or if one of its own nationals invests abroad, thus increasing its assets abroad, then that country faces a so-called balance-of-payments problem, and if these transactions are carried on in sufficient volume then it faces a crisis. Moreover, that crisis can be revolved by the Chancellor of that country putting up the interest rates so far within his country as to attract an equivalent or larger number of foreigners to lend money back.
In the United States, there is a very favourable balance of trade compensated by most generous gifts and loans to other countries. Yet because, at the same time, American nationals are investing freely abroad and some foreign funds are being repatriated from America for investment in more profitable fields, the dollar is suspect. The United States is no poorer for these transactions. It is relieved of foreign debt, and it is piling up assets overseas. That the dollar should be suspect in consequence is an absolutely Gilbertian situation, and shows that our arrangements for moving capital across the exchanges have not kept pace with the increase in the amount of movable capital in the world. The simplest solution, 68 which I have advocated to your Lordships before now, is all-round revaluation in terms of gold; but President Kennedy is incapable of persuading the American people that this does not mean a devaluation of the dollar, and that solution is therefore out.
The international bankers have been busy working for the second-best solution of agreements to "take in each other's washing." But this is very much a second-best solution, because the international bankers are a very nervous lot; and as soon as they accumulate rather more of another nation's currency than they really want they start peering over their shoulders at the state of that country's economy, and in the end they are tempted to interfere in its working. We must have a means of settlement which is quite independent of the action of any country's Treasury, and one which is known to be available in sufficient quantity to meet all foreseeable capital movements. Otherwise, we shall have to decide that Lord Keynes was right. The first task of our Chancellor should be to try to work to that end. He can certainly hold his own in any economic company, and I hope that he will be able to bring home to the international banking circles the absurdities of the present situation, and help to devise a better solution.
My Lords, the next most important problem, as I see it, is that of the increasing riches of the industrialised countries and the increasing poverty of the rest. In many cases this may be due to their own fault. Sometimes it is due to sloth, mismanagement, dishonesty and, perhaps, undue fecundity. But commodity prices are low, and if they rise we start to talk about the risks of inflation, and steps are taken which have the effect of combating that rise. To take our own case, at the moment our heavy industries are slack; the backward countries cannot afford to buy what we could produce. The situation produces a great challenge to the second half of this century. Opinion in the world is turning towards the long-term commodity agreements, of which I, for one, have always been a protagonist, but in regard to which I never got much change out of the Treasury in this country.
69 Then, to turn nearer home, we cannot allow the continuous drift of our population towards the West Midlands and the South-East of England, bringing soaring land values and the like. Somehow, we have to see that people can live and work happily in Scotland, the North and Wales. Is it not time that another major Government Department was despatched out of London, not to be replaced by an equal number of office workers from another source? Our communications North and South are pretty good: East and West, they are not so good. Is it not time that we had a major twin-track road from Cardigan Bay to the East Coast, along which could be located some new towns to absorb the population of Birmingham and the Midlands? Then, we have to look at methods of re-deploying our declining industries. The length of time of apprenticeship in our country seems to be very extravagant. Is it too revoluntionary an idea to think of a man who may be qualified both as a welder and as a bricklayer? So far, I do not think such a person exists.
Matters of this sort will inevitably present a challenge to the Government for the next ten or twenty years, and it is in this kind of field that Her Majesty's Government must think big. They will not recapture the interest of the youth of this country with a programme based on remedying the fancied grievances of inexperienced shoppers who will not listen to "mum". My final message to the Chancellor is: for Heaven's sake make the Treasury act in time, and not wait until they can prove on paper that their proposed action is right! By the time they have collected the figures to prove their case, the situation has changed entirely. Every economic step in this country has been taken too late. It may be necessary to drive on the brake and on the accelerator, but you must be quite certain that you do not drive downhill on the accelerator and uphill on the brake.
§ 6.8 p.m.
§ LORD CHAMPION
My Lords, in his unusual and quite remarkable opening speech the noble and learned Viscount the Leader of the House challenged us to abandon mythologies and to abandon doctrinaire proposals. In a very modest and humble way, I 70 propose to accept that challenge. May I join with the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, in welcoming the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Aldington? I feel fairly sure that I heard his maiden speech many years ago in this Chamber, but in what is called, for some peculiar reason, "another place". I heard him with great respect—not always with agreement, of course, but certainly with respect; and I am sure that he will always be heard with respect in this House because of the knowledge he brings to bear upon the subject on which he speaks. He said something with which I am in absolute agreement: that our wealth is not growing fast enough. It is our job, I think, to examine how to increase the rate of growth of our wealth.
How can we increase our prosperity? It seems to me that there are three essentials for prosperity and for increasing the rate of growth. The first of these is a very steady expansion of production. I know this is much easier said than done. Indeed, in any sort of economy the difficulties are enormous. Even in Russia, where they have a much stricter control over their economy than we have here, they have not been able to have a perfectly steady rate of growth. They run into difficulties, have had to make adjustments, and so on. But so far as is humanly possible we must try to avoid the yo-yo-like dance to which our economy has been subjected over the past eleven years—inflation and deflation alternating with all their evil consequences; the upward pull of the string of the yo-yo into inflation amazingly coinciding with the approach of a General Election, to be followed by a sharp, downward push into deflation when the Election is over. I regard this as a cynical use of power only to be justified by a political Party which thinks, with Louis XIV, "L'état, c'est moi." "The country, it is us" seems to be the attitude of the Tory Party in this connection.
The sort of expansion of production that we must have is not merely the increase of production which is offset by an increase in labour, although, of course, a decrease in unemployment is always to be welcomed; but what we must have is an increase in productivity. As I understand the figures in the Economic Survey, they show that the 71 rise in production in this country over the past two years has been 2 per cent., and the rise in productivity over that same period has been nil. In other words, the greater amount of production has been wholly accounted for by the increase in the amount of labour employed. That is just not good enough. We shall not double our standard of living in 25 years or some lesser period if our production increase does not vastly outstrip the amount of labour employed to secure it.
Now, how can we increase our productivity? I think there must be a central decision as to investment priorities, and if we remain afraid of direction of our resources by physical controls, it will have to be done by large-scale tax incentives of a discriminatory character. If you will not have one, you must have the other. Have we got to work harder? In some ways, yes; but I believe chiefly with our brains. So often in this connection we hear the wail, "If only the British worker would work harder, like the Germans," or somebody else, and so often it seems to me that it comes from men standing with their backsides to the fire and the coffee (or something stronger and more comforting) in their hands. What is really required, I think, is to use our brains in management of men and resources to cut out the wastes in our industry. Restrictive practices by men and management will have to go, for so often in the case of labour they stem from a fear of unemployment, and if persisted in to such an extent as to restrict productivity they may well lead to mass unemployment again. But restrictive practices are not confined only to labour. In management they stem from the feeling: "Why should we bother? We're all right, Jack, as we are". So often that is the attitude adopted by management in this connection, and that, with restrictive practices adopted by the trade unions and men, must somehow go. We must shake management out of their ideas in that connection and persuade trade unions to adopt more up-to-date policies.
In our economy there is too much hidden unemployment caused by firms holding on to skilled workers, and too little thought devoted to the requirements of labour mobility. Labour mobility I regard as an essential in a 72 dynamic economy. If we are going to stand still, let them all remain where they are. If we are going to have a rate of growth, new ideas which will give us exports, we must have the way to ensure that men can be transferred from this job to that job, to the new job that is essential. In this connection there must be redundancy agreements that are really satisfactory, and some way of re-training the redundant worker so that he will fit into the new type of job.
The second essential for our prosperity, as I see it, is a fair distribution of the product of our industry. Here we have to decide how to divide the product between employees and the remuneration of capital in such a way that it is not only fair but is demonstrably seen to be fair. Roughly, in the past salaries and wages on the one hand and the payments for the use of capital on the other have been kept in some sort of balance by the economic forces which played upon them. The power of the trade unions and men to demand higher and ever higher wages was limited by the pressure of large numbers of unemployed and by the profitability of the industry in which the men were employed. The man standing at the gate seeking a job and the slumps in industrial production which decreased the owner's urge to keep his business in production provided the check upon the power of the trade union. The rapacity of the capital owner was kept in check by competition both nationally and internationally. There was a struggle for the market in which too many goods were seeking too few purchasers holding the wherewithal to purchase, and that was the check against the exaggerated reward for capital.
Now both the check against the trade unions of unemployment and the check of real competition against capital have gone in the post-war period, and however much such an idea may be hated by the trade unions and the capitalists we must somehow devise and secure the acceptance of an incomes policy which will replace the old checks and balances. If we are not to see disaster overtake our economy, the discipline imposed by unemployment must be replaced by a self-imposed discipline by the trade unions themselves. In other words, there will have to be a wages policy accepted by them and 73 worked by them. I know the difficulties, my Lords—I am a life-long trade unionist—but they must be overcome, and they can be overcome only by a process of education and assuring the trade unions what it all means. I know it is not an easy matter; but we shall simply have to go on pursuing it. I do not want it to be too long term. I hope it will not take too long; but persuade them we shall have to.
Now I turn to the other aspect of it, in which I cannot immage that the noble Lords opposite will be so inclined to nod their heads in agreement. The postwar period has also seen a lessening of the disciplines imposed upon capital by continuing prosperity and the growth of the management of the market. Incidentally, while thinking of this matter over the week-end, I looked at a book which was given to me many years ago as a balance to my study of Karl Marx. It was Hartley Withers's The Case for Capitalism, in which these words appear:Is not the consumers' freedom threatened to some extent under capitalism by monopoly, or at least by attempts in its direction on the part of trusts, combines, amalgamations, rings and ' gentlemen's agreements'? If Capitalism plays this game, it will simply weave for itself a rope with which it will be hanged, and rightly, as high as Haman".All the things which Hartley Withers then said would lead to the hangman's rope are operating now and if disaster is to be avoided from the capital and financial side of our economy, a discipline must be imposed either from within or from without.
How difficult that is going to be has been illustrated by the squeal that preceded and followed the imposition in this Finance Bill of a mouse of a speculative gains tax. If I had not heard the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie of Dundee, put this point so quietly and, on the face of it, so reasonably, I would have gone on to say what I have prepared—perhaps I had better do it. The recent broadside of the Chairman of the Stock Exchange would be laughable if it were not indicative of the difficulties that have to be overcome in this matter of keeping the rewards of the owners of finance in check.
All this amounts to an appeal for the acceptance of an incomes policy by both capital and labour, for without such an acceptance, we shall be in serious difficulty. It does not look to me as 74 if the Government's proposal for a National Incomes Commission is going to solve the problem. You do not make a wages policy acceptable merely by changing its name, by calling it NIC. I know that many in the trade unions will be inclined to say that this is Old Nick, a monster in sheep's clothing.
I know that the Government's case is that incomes from the use of capital can be kept in check by taxation. Mr. Maudling, on Thursday last, put it succinctly in these words [OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 663 (No. 153), col. 1861]:… the Government have power over the total level of profits and dividends which they have not over the total level of wages. Through profits taxation we have a direct power to impinge on excessive levels of profits.How can you hope to convince the trade unionists that that power will be used, when they look at the trifling speculative gains tax, when they know full well that much of the stupid ostentatious spending and display of wealth that we see all around us to-day stems from income derived from capital gains? And if ever people with wealth have been stupid, they have been stupid in this ostentatious display. How can you hope to persuade trade unionists that there is nothing in the bag when they see clearly that the bag is overflowing into this stupid display of wealth? Incomes coming not so much from capital gains as from speculative gains seem to us so often not the reward of enterprise but the result of the possession of wealth and the employment of a cunning stockbroker. I think that the indispensable prerequisite for getting a wages policy accepted is the removal of the suspicion that it is all a trick to limit wages and to leave other income receivers free to enjoy the incomes derived from their wealth.
The third and last point I make follows to some degree what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Hawke. All that I have said up to now leads to the point that, without increased productivity and without a real incomes policy, we shall price ourselves out of the world's markets. I appeal to my trade union colleagues outside not to dismiss this with the remark, "We have heard that old tale before." We must recognise in the trade union movement and elsewhere that, if we do price ourselves 75 out of the world's markets, our incomes will not double in 25 years, but will decline, certainly relatively and possibly actually. Our task in this matter of exports is not only to ensure that we do not price ourselves out of the market; we must also do everything in our power to increase the volume of world trade. Perhaps I am a little naïve in this matter. I am not an economist. But I hold the view that the reason we have not returned to the old alternating boom and slump of the 150 years before the recent war, is to found in the fact that after the war we so managed our economy that the rewards of our primary producers were kept to a reasonably high level. Agricultural subsidies, comparatively high coal prices, and reasonable rewards for our fishing industry are all part of the story, aided, it is true, by monetary and fiscal measures.
If I am right in this, somehow, by international action, we must keep up the prices paid to the world's primary producers. I am sure that it is infinitely preferable to pay a good price for primary products than to have an immediate advantage of low-cost imports and then to have to try to make up the difference to the producers in charitable aids. As the noble Lord, Lord Walston, pointed out in a recent debate on aid to Commonwealth countries, it is better for the countries producing sugar, cocoa, coffee, rubber, zinc, lead, and the rest, to be standing on their own feet through reasonable prices than to be the recipients of aid which places them in the humiliating position of poor relations. It is also better for world trade that the primary producers should be relieved of the sort of boom and slump which for so long bedevilled our economy and which was to such a large extent cured by the means I have mentioned.
To sum up, we have to increase productivity by scrapping outdated practices and adopting bold new ideas; we have to get an incomes policy accepted, but it must be demonstrably fair; and we have to help to secure by international action a positive increase in world trade.
§ 6.29 p.m.
THE MARQUESS of READING
My Lords, may I start by joining in the 76 congratulations that have been offered by preceding speakers to the noble Lord, Lord Aldington, and likewise by expressing the hope that we shall frequently hear him speaking to us again? At this stage of the evening, after a fairly long debate, your Lordships will no doubt be relieved—I myself am a little discomfited—to find that the fruits of my labours have already been devoured, metaphorically at least, by the noble Lords Who have already spoken. I shall do my best not to weary you with repetition, nor I hope in any other way. I should perhaps just add that the amendments I have endeavoured to make while listening to your Lordships have resulted in my note being almost completely illegible.
With that preamble, may I start by saying that in April, when the then Chancellor introduced his Budget, he justifiably pointed to the marked strengthening which had taken place in the whole foundations of the economy, and his primary concern at that time was to ensure that they would be capable of bearing the heavier load which he expected to he imposed upon them as the envisaged expansion gathered momentum. So it is that on this occasion, in order to bring the economy on to the course which has been set for it in the Budget, the total impact of this Finance Bill is required to make only a small adjustment to the wheel, and the engine room telegraph remains at "Half speed ahead". On balance, the improvement has been maintained since April, although there are certain perceptible shifts and changes in the background, particularly overseas, which are a little disquieting and might even lead some of us to question whether the basic assumptions on which this Bill was based are still valid.
In particular, my Lords, the momentum of recovery in the United States has not come up to earlier expectations and Canada has been forced to restrict certain imparts. On top of, or combined with, these other facts there is the ominous behaviour of world stock markets, which surely cannot be ignored, even if the precise significance equally cannot be clearly ascertained at this particular moment. There may also be doubts lurking in some minds at any rate, about whether we, and other countries like us who are concentrating our 77 efforts for a final onslaught upon inflation, may not turn round to find bearing down upon us the still more terrible spectre of deflation. Doubts such as there may be about the continued validity of the assumptions behind this Bill were, I believe, satisfactorily answered in the speech made in another place last week by my right honourable friend, speaking as Chancellor of the Exchequer for the first time; and it was most reassuring to find that he considered the balance of probability points to a vigorous expansion later in the year and, moreover, that he undertook to take action if this expansion should fail to materialise.
My Lords, I am not going to take up your time dwelling upon past events, except to this extent. This time last year we were, of course, in a profoundly different situation. The Budget then had to a large extent already been overtaken by events before the Finance Bill had reached the Statute Book. The fact that these measures Am posed a year ago by the recent Chancellor of the Exchequer were necessitated by a threat to the development of what I might term our banking department still does not appear to be genuinely appreciated in the country as a whole. Indeed, few people yet realise that we have the dual rôle to play of a great trading nation, on the one hand, and of the managers of one of the principal international currencies, on the other. Until these two distinct functions are more widely understood, can we be surprised if many of the more important changes in economic policy are completely misinterpreted by most of the citizens of this country?
It is, I believe, intensely bewildering and frustrating to people to find that, as occurred a year ago, an emergency which had arisen out of our banking responsibilities had to be met by stringent action in the home market. This is a thing which causes a great deal of ill-feeling and, as I say, frustration throughout the country. Therefore, I suggest, it is an urgent necessity to draw attention to the existence of these two distinct functions. This is one of the first steps which should be taken to implement the recommendation in the Report on the Control of Public Expenditure produced a year ago by a group 78 presided over by the noble Lord, Lord Plowden.
This Report attached great importance to the creation of an informed public opinion, and I feel that more could and should be done to implement that part of that valuable Report. The explanation of this and other problems to the public in general is, in my belief, one of the fundamental problems of our time. I am not adopting a superior attitude to this at all. I confess that I am just as bewildered by all sorts of problems which are relevant in other aspects of politics and public life; and, indeed, there is a whole host of crucial issues, be they to do with economics, defence or foreign affairs, which have become so complicated that it is extremely hard for the ordinary citizen, however conscientious he may be, to form even an approximately balanced or tolerably well-informed view of the issues at stake. And yet, in the last resort, it is public opinion and the polling booth which are the final arbiters of these issues.
My Lords, the most encouraging feature of the proposed National Incomes Commission is that it provides a focal point for bringing the salutary influence of public opinion to bear upon certain wage claims. In my belief the innate sense of fair play which is such a strong characteristic of people as a whole should ensure that, in exercising its function of creating order out of what I think must be admitted is at the moment a chaotic position, this body will reach decisions that will be both fair and just, as well as conducive to greater efficiency for the country as a whole and all sections of the community. This imaginative proposal offers by far the most hopeful prospect we have yet had of solving one of the most insidious problems that has time and again frustrated attempts to expand the economy and brought great hardship to various sections of the community, it is devoutly to be hoped that the Prime Minister's plea that this proposal should be given full discussion and serious thought will be heeded; and, if I may say so, I was greatly encouraged and much impressed by the remark which the noble Lord, Lord Champion, has just made on this particular aspect of the subject.
I should like, if I may do so without unduly detaining your Lordships, to 79 comment upon one reaction to this proposal, namely, the suggestion which has been made in certain quarters—and, if not directly put forward, I think indirectly implied by at least one of the noble Lords opposite who has taken part in this debate—that profits and dividends should be subjected to some similar process. It would be a gross impertinence on my part if I were to endeavour to embark upon a dissertation on the profound differences in the nature and origin of profits, dividends, wages and salaries, but obviously these distinctions must be borne in mind when considering this matter. I should also like again to say, as I said on the only other occasion on which I ventured to address your Lordships, how convinced I am that the division of the fruits of industry and commerce must be equitable; since, to put it on no higher a basis, the full co-operation of all concerned cannot reasonably be expected to be forthcoming if respective rewards are not accepted as fair and just.
If this new Commission's function were to be to repress and hold down wages, the demand for similar treatment for dividends and profits would be more understandable. But, though I have not anything like the experience of other noble Lords, particularly certain noble Lords opposite who have spoken, as I read the function of this Commission it is not intended to do anything of the sort. It has surely been created essentially in order to prevent wages from rising faster than the economy's capacity to generate the additional wealth required in order to satisfy those wage increases. For without this additional wealth the benefit of the higher wage cannot be maintained in real terms. It seems to me that, other things being equal, the Commission would be more disposed to adopt a liberal attitude towards any claims that were referred to it if profits were in a rising trend; and, conversely, that its approach would be likely to be somewhat less accommodating if profits were falling.
There is no doubt that during the inflationary period that we have had since the war it has been far too easy for some inefficient producers to make very handsome profits. But since the whole function of this Commission, and of 80 other measures which the Government are pursuing in their economic policy, is to try to exorcise inflation from the economy, it should induce a less debilitating and crisper operating climate for industry and commerce. This, in turn, should exert a strong disciplinary action upon profits. Let us try to project our thoughts forward into the conditions, that are likely to prevail over the next few years, whether or not we do in fact join the Common Market, and let us not allow our thinking to be inhibited by the experience of what has happened in the recent past. I sincerely hope and believe that we are emerging from that phase.
May I add just one point more, this time on dividends? A great deal of confusion is caused by comparisons made between total wages and salaries, on the one hand, and total payments of interest and dividends, on the other, taken for a selected period of years. Such comparisons are virtually meaningless, since the total amount of capital on which the interest and dividends have to be paid is continually increasing. Indeed it should be axiomatic that if there is any growth and development of the economy at all there must be an accompanying increase in the total supply of capital. The increase, of course, comes about in two ways: one by the sale of new securities to the public; the other by the retention or ploughing back of profits remaining after the payment of dividends. I will not attempt to put any such figures before your Lordships, but they clearly result in a radically different picture from that which is presented by a straightforward comparison of the unadjusted statistics such as are often quoted on the platform or in the newspapers.
I deeply regret that my general support for this Bill has to be qualified, in view of the fact that it embodies the tax on speculative gains in the particularly obnoxious form that we find in this Bill. This method of imposing this tax is calculated to inflict the maximum damage in the course of achieving the minimum results. I will not enlarge on this deplorable measure beyond associating myself, as a rank-and-file member of the Stock Exchange, with the weighty objections to it so ably 81 expounded by the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie of Dundee. But I would add one comment, particularly in view of a remark made by the noble Lord, Lord Champion. My objection—and I think this is the general case—is not to the principle of the tax. I concede that. I entirely agree with the noble Lord on the principle that there is no reason why a certain form of activity should escape tax altogether when other forms of activity are subject to tax. The whole objection is against the particular and, if may say so, peculiarly inept manner in which the tax has been imposed. That is the root of these objections. But, my Lords, since we must consider this Bill as a whole, and have no way in which we can modify any of its individual proposals, may I just say that I warmly support it as an integral part of the Government's economic and financial policy, in which I have the greatest confidence.
§ 6.49 p.m.
§ LORD MOLSON
My Lords, when we consider this Finance Bill we must regard it as the last act of policy of the late Chancellor of the Exchequer. Therefore, I think we should remind ourselves of the change that has taken place in the general economy of the country in the last twelve months. It is reasonable, I think, to say that that is largely due to the courageous measures that my right honourable friend took. In contrast with last year we now have a strong pound; we have a balance of payments very greatly improved; exports are now rising; prices appear to be more stable, and, as a climax—and I only regret that it happened after he fell from office—the repayment in full of the loan which he had to contract in order to meet difficulties largely originating before he became Chancellor.
This contrast between the position now and twelve months ago deserves, I think, to be set against the general course of the movement of the pound sterling since the beginning of 1957, when the present Prime Minister took over. There have been three Chancellors of the Exchequer during that time who have gone. It is difficult to resist the impression that they have gone because they sought to resist ever-increasing public expenditure and what has in fact proved to be a highly inflationary policy. The graph published 82 in The Times last week shows how the decline in the purchasing value of the pound which began in 1938 has continued under Socialist and Conservative Administrations with not much difference in the general trend.
There have been several speeches today with which I find myself in almost complete agreement. I think the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Champion, must have commended itself to moderate men in all parts of the House. The speech with which I found myself in disagreement almost from beginning to end was the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth. In particular, I should like to say that I thought it unfair to criticise officials of the Treasury for the policy that has been followed by the Government that they have served. If they have given advice, and if they have had a policy, I think the taxpayer of this country considers, now that another place has abandoned its traditional task of safeguarding the pocket of the taxpayer, that that task is discharged in so far as it is discharged at all, by the permanent officials of the Treasury. I welcome the reorganisation which is being made on the lines of the Plowden Report, and I only hope that in future a longer view will be taken of the ultimate consequence of every increase in expenditure that takes place.
There are many people who criticise the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, and this Finance Bill in particular, on the ground that they want more growth. That was the gist of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth. I think that my noble friend the Leader of the House put his finger on the real point when he said that we must distinguish What kind of growth of production we desire to have; and I think he said (I took down his words as best I could) that growth may mean production of unwanted and unsaleable goods.
The Prime Minister, speaking in another place, laid down as the three objectives of economic policy the maintenance, first, of full employment; secondly, of steady prices; thirdly, of a strong currency; and, fourthly, of expansion or growth. I regret the use of the words "full employment", when that phrase is an inaccurate quotation from the title of the White Paper issued by the Coalition Government in 1945. 83 The objective there, to which both political Parties pledged themselves, was the maintenance of "a high and stable level of employment". I think that to put full employment first betokens a Stock-ton-on-Tees outlook and a reversion to a pre-war age, when the problem was unemployment and deflation, not inflation and constant increases in price, which is the problem with which we have been faced ever since the war. With this reconstruction of the Government, it is important that all Ministers should be forward looking.
The main Obstacle to the growth of economic production at the present time is shortage of labour, especially skilled labour. Increased investment, however desirable in itself, leads to increased demands for skilled labour, which is particularly scarce, and it does not always result in any great reduction in the demand for unskilled labour. That is the effect of restrictive practices and of the policy of some, at any rate, of the trade unions. In the last twelve months the employment position has improved; by saying "improved" I mean that there is less of a burden upon the labour supply. I regard it as an improvement that in May, 1962, there were 48,000 more unemployed than vacancies, whereas a year ago there were 152,000 more vacancies than unemployed. I believe that growth depends upon the absorption of this labour, and therefore it is this margin which gives us the prospect, which I am sure we all have at heart, of an increase in really valuable production.
When unemployment is still only 1.8 per cent. it cannot surely be argued that there is any need for a dose of inflation. Indeed, to increase our economic well-being what is required in many branches of the economy is not increased but reduced production. We are burdened at the present time by Scottish coalmines, included in the index of industrial production, which are working at a heavy loss. Not only is there a loss on production but this coal is surplus to requirements and is being stored. Exactly the same is happening in the case of Lancashire—redeployment in the cotton mills is not to be deplored. As I think my noble friend the Leader of the House implied in his speech, it means a redeployment 84 deployment of labour from less productive industries to those for the future, Where the production of this country is going to be higher per man and is going to make a more valuable contribution.
Why do we hear this talk of a stagnant economy? Anybody who talks of that should look at page 1 of the Monthly Digest of Statistics and see what the gross domestic product has been. For 1961 it was an all-time record, and some of the figures for the first quarter of 1962 are entirely satisfactory. Concentration seems to be upon the index of industrial production which excludes agriculture, transport and the services. A rising standard of living such as this country has enjoyed to such a remarkable extent during the last eleven years naturally results in more leisure, more variety in the demand for goods, a higher quality in those goods, more durability and, above all, more services. None of that is included, and it is entirely wrong to suppose that the measure of the prosperity of the country depends merely upon the production of goods. When there is talk about the percentage increase per year being less here than it is in some other countries, it is necessary to bear in mind this peculiarity about percentages Which I was taught long ago When I studied mathematics: the percentage depends upon the percentage you start from.
§ SEVERAL NOBLE LORDS: Hear, Hear!
§ LORD MOLSON
And, of course—and I was very glad to have those cheers from the Benches opposite—it was comparatively easy for there to be a great increase in production during the period the Socialist Government were in office, because in 1945, at the end of the war, things were in bad way. Now, after eleven years of Conservative administration, with ever-increasing prosperity, it is virtually impossible to have the same percentage of increase as in the days when the Socialist Government were in power and when our economy was getting back on to a peace-time basis.
§ LORD STONHAM
What we are complaining about is that in the last two years there has been no increase at all.
§ LORD MOLSON
I do not think that is strictly true. Although I do not want 85 to delay matters, I turn to page one and I find that the gross domestic product in 1960 was £22,150 million, and in 1961 it was £23,437 million. So I do not think that that intervention is statistically correct. I wish that the Prime Minister had put the objects of economic policy in a different order. First, a strong currency; second, steady prices; third, a growth (and I would interpose words here) of efficient and saleable production; and, fourth, a high and stable level of employment.
The wage pause, to which reference has been made to-day, although only temporary, was, as I ventured to say in a letter to The Times, unfair, ineffective and betrayed confused thinking. I welcome the Incomes Commission as being useful, so far as it goes, and I am very glad that thoughtful noble Lords opposite, like Lord Champion, say that they hope that careful consideration will be given to its operation. But I cannot wholly share the Prime Minister's optimism when he said [OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 663 (No. 153), col. 1760]:I cannot believe that in practice the parties would not give weight to the Government's expressed view, and I cannot believe that either side would disregard it.In view of some of our experiences in the matter of wage settlements recently, I do not share the Prime Minister's confidence in either side of the industry. Nevertheless, I do believe that there is great scope for men of good will, who now accept the need for an incomes policy, to work together in or 1er to ensure that, as the economy expands, so the increase in nominal incomes is kept broadly in line with the increase in true wealth. As the noble Lord, Lord Champion, said, the automatic checks of the past of chronic unemployment have gone—and we rejoice that they have gone—and it will be necessary to put something in their place.
My Lords, we have heard that at the first meeting of N.E.D.C. under the present Chancellor, there was a general complaint by industry about its prospects. I think that industry is always asking for easy sales and assured prospects, and I was very glad when my noble friend, Lord Reading said that one of the troubles in the years after the war has been that industry has enjoyed 86 excessive prosperity. No one who has enjoyed the excess of any good thing likes to be deprived of it, but there are occasions when it is desirable that that should be done. I want to see keener competition and keener prices. That is one reason why I should welcome our entering into the Common Market. I believe that lower prices are a far better way of raising living standards than by an increase in nominal wages or nominal dividends.
My Lords, our financial policy should aim at stability of prices; for that will remove at any rate some of the uncertainty that is now troubling the industrialists. We must also make sure that in our policy we do not have a recurrence of these balance-of-payments crises every two years or so. Since the war (and here I am quoting the Leader of the House of Commons) we have had them in 1947, in 1949, in 1951, in 1955, in 1957 and in 1961. The Prime Minister, in one or two speeches, has referred to the desirability when driving a motor car of sometimes using the accelerator and sometimes the brake. That, of course, is quite true. But no one who is constantly either accelerating recklessly or applying the brakes drastically is considered a good driver.
What we must aim at now, as has been said by almost all noble Lords who have spoken, is some greater stability in the economy. But if we must fall into error—though I hope we shall not—then surely at the present time deflation would be better than inflation. As my noble and learned friend the Leader of the House said, it is easier to start inflation than to end it. And at present, if we do get deflation, if we do get a serious fall in prices, if we do get a serious increase in unemployment, then, either by reducing taxation or by lowering the bank rate, or by any other of the techniques with which we are now familiar, I feel sure it will be possible to revive the economy. But once we have a raging, tearing inflation we are still without the controls that are needed to restrain it.
So it is that, when this change has taken place at the Treasury, those of us on this side of the House look forward to the future with hope, though not without some slight apprehension. I share 87 the optimism of my noble friend Lord Aldington, whose speech we all so much enjoyed and which I, as an old friend of his, particularly welcomed. Nevertheless, I hope that it will not be considered that at this juncture anything in the way of an inflationary move is required. I think that is the greatest danger that faces the country and the Government at the present time.
§ 7.8 p.m.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, we have been fairly well round the economic circuit to-day and we ended up, as we should do, with a fairly firm deflationary speech, I would say, coming from an erstwhile inflationist, as he very fairly pointed out, from the days when inflation was much more needed. We had also some extremely interesting speeches, and most especially I would welcome the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Aldington. It is a custom in this House that we ate even nicer about maiden speeches than they are in another place, but it was, if I may say so, an enjoyable and generally pleasing speech. The noble Lord knows how pleased his friends are to see him with us in this House. I should also like to utter a word of sympathy to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. This is the second time he has encountered a Second Reading on the Finance Bill. On the last occasion in another place he made the winding-up speech, and I had rather hoped he was going to do in a rather more specialised form what so many of us in this House who made our maiden speeches in the Commons have done; I hoped he was going actually to wind-up the same debate in both Houses. But he has been spared that, and we are to hear from the noble Earl, Lord Dundee.
I was tremendously impressed, as I always am, by the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham. We like his philosophy. He enjoys it and the House derives stimulus and, I would say, elevation. But I am not sure whether philosophy or even the puncturing of mythologies is quite so valuable in this field, where we are dealing with very hard economic facts, in which the final judgment depends on a very narrow and detailed examination of certain trends. I thought the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, summed 88 up very clearly the two different ways in which one can look at the economic situation. But that is not to say I did not greatly enjoy the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham. I think one ought to keep all his speeches, because they are so splendidly quotable—I hope usually in his defence, but no doubt on other occasions against him—and I hope he recalls precisely what he says. But there is a consistency in his philosophy to-day. He is rather following the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Montgomery of Alamein, higher and higher into the stratosphere, and taking a stratospheric look at our economy. I think we really need to come down to very hard facts. There are certain points I want to make, and I shall try to controvert certain of the views that have been expressed, especially some of those expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Molson. But I am very well aware that there are sometimes two ways of looking at the same fact and two ways of interpreting it.
I am sorry that custom prevents us from doing more than make a passing reference to the Finance Bill. Whereas I should not wish to increase at all the powers of this House in this respect, I am sorry that we cannot perhaps help another place, especially since it was so obvious that there are feelings in another place that the Budget and the Finance Bill are becoming a very heavy burden. There were interesting discussions about the possibility of a division of the Finance Bill into that part of it which is involved in tax raising and that part involved in tax management. But, fortunately, we bundle the whole thing together in this House, which makes for a jolly debate, and it may well be that if we really were to spend more time helping another place we should need a large number of additional Peers—and to pay them, furthermore, which would obviously be inflationary.
There have been one or two references to certain aspects of Government fiscal policy. I think the regulator, as it has been called, has been a valuable device to introduce into the Government's armoury, and infinitely preferable to that extraordinarily half-baked payroll tax which was completely misconceived. Undoubtedly, it had a rôle in the right place, but the theory that it 89 could be used as a regulator is the sort of thing that really worries one about Governments, Chancellors and the Treasury, in that they could have got that particular one so wrong. Now they love the regulator so much that they make permanent a large part of what had been done under it, and take powers to do the same thing again. I do not know whether, strictly speaking, those powers could not mean that the rates go up 10 per cent. and come down 20 per cent. But, none the less, I go no further than to say I think it is unfortunate that once again a temporary tax has become permanent, particularly such a tax as the fuel tax.
There is another general point with regard to the Budget. I still think it is a pity that there is no increase in personal allowances, and I hope that the Government will bear that in mind in another year. In passing, I should like to make an appeal that the B.B.C. should not be taxed on their surplus from the licence revenue. The Royal Commission on Taxation recommended that the B.B.C. should be taxed only on what might be called their trading activities. That they should be taxed on the surplus, the money they are saving for future expenditure, which has already been taken from the taxpayer, seems to me to be an absurdity. I think it is legitimate to raise that point on the Second Reading of the Finance Bill.
I should like to turn very briefly to the speculative gains tax. I appreciate that certain noble Lords object to it, not just on the grounds of the undesirability of levying the tax, but on the way it is collected. It seems to me that the arguments in favour of treating it as income tax are extremely powerful, and, of course, they have been sanctified by practices abroad. In this I would support the Government. But, equally, if it is so objectionable in its present form, ought we not perhaps to consider seriously before the next Budget, instead of these rather objectionable, fiddling taxes which noble Lords have said are not likely to bring in much revenue—they certainly do not bring any sense of justice—.the introduction of a proper capital gains tax; and, I would say, a capital gains tax at a lower rate than income tax, however it may be assessed? I do not see how any one can think it right that the salary earner, or the person 90 dependent on direct income, should have to pay tax, and those who may receive these capital gains in a form which is immediately expendable—such as a rights issue which, as noble Lords know, can be sold and cash received straight away—should not pay a tax on them.
I do not want to develop this point further, but I would agree with those noble Lords who feel that our economy has readily become distorted to an absurd degree. It is absurd how many people—and I think this goes for many of us in this House—instinctively now look for capital gains, or some device like a "top hat" scheme, or whatever it may be, as the only way of making some money. While I think that the timing of the reduction in surtax was extraordinarily unfortunate last year, none the less there is a case for reductions for earned income, reverting if possible to a more traditional pattern. I do not know if this will ever be possible, but I am quite certain that it will not be possible unless there is a proper capital gains tax.
LORD RITCHIE OF DUNDEE
My Lords, would the noble Lord include in "a proper capital gains tax" gains from such things as bingo and football pools?
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, I do not honestly know. I think there are arguments against it. Personally, I do not play the football pools or bingo, and I do not know. I think that is a difficult point, but the fact remains that gambling of that kind has generally been accepted, and there are considerations why that should be so. But I do not think this affects the main basis of my argument. I do not think it affects the view that, if we decided it was necessary to tax capital gains, we should not allow ourselves to be thwarted by the technicality of whether or not we should tax bingo.
My Lords, I do not think horse racing has been mentioned. I do not think the noble Lord or his friends would ever so tax betting on horses that it ceased, and the breeding of horses also ceased. This is precisely a parallel case. The Chancellor is at the moment killing the speculator who levelled out the market, because he has levied this tax in a peculiar way.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
I do not think we have time for a full debate on these rather interesting side aspects, but the House knows perfectly well that it would not depend on this particular, narrow issue. I would say that noble Lords, if they seriously put forward this argument, are showing a certain frivolity, not merely now but in their attitude towards the much more pressing issue of trying to achieve a stable economy in which a workable incomes policy is a possibility. I would say to the Government that a workable incomes policy is simply not "on" at the moment, and one of the reasons is that there is this feeling of a lack of equity in the taxation picture.
I shall want to return to this more when I say a few words on the subject of the National Incomes Commission, but I would now say just a word or two to the noble Lord, Lord Molson, regarding his estimate of how well the country is doing. I entirely agree that the balance-of-payments situation looks a little better at the moment, and certainly our reserves position looks a great deal better; and it is a matter for satisfaction that we have been able to repay the loan as we have. I may say that I think it is also a matter of satisfaction that we were able to get that loan. I think it shows a real improvement in the international situation of a kind that might have saved us in earlier crises. It is a net gain, and a very important one.
I shall say a few more words later on about liquidity; but there are depressing aspects. The pay pause has not really worked as well as people thought it would. Pay has continued to rise, particularly since October, and if the object of the exercise was to prevent that, it does not seem to have succeeded. Certainly manufacturing production has not gone up. There are a number of other indices which are equally worrying, but most alarming of all, I think, is the fact that investment, particularly in private industry, looks like declining in the course of the next few months. Certainly profits have been squeezed, but against that one notices that dividends have gone up. I do not think that is, except in a psychological sense, of very great importance to the general position of the economy.
92 Then prices, of course, have continued to rise. But the most worrying thing is this—and this is the side that the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, referred to when I mentioned (I do not know whether he was here when I referred to it) the very fair statement of the two views that the economists take—that in a period of restriction of this kind it is absolutely essential that production must rise. This was in fact the burden of what the Chancellor said at the time; he said that what we have to do, in effect, is to hold back a little and put in a little more effort. But, in fact, production and productivity have not risen. To this extent we are, in terms, from an inflationary point of view—not from a balance-of-payments point of view, but from another angle—in as vulnerable a position as we were before the pay pause was ever introduced.
If in fact we are going to see a surge forward of expansion during the autumn, then I think we may be in just as vulnerable a position, and those who hold the views of the noble Lord, Lord Molson, in this matter may well be justified in saying that the only thing is to stand still, and we cannot afford that degree of inflation that will come about through an expansion of production. Indeed, we do know that a good deal of the improved currency of our reserve position is due to these movements of capital which are not directly related to the direct earnings of this country, either in invisible earnings or in exports. So I do not think this is a matter on which we can be extremely comfortable; and it is against this background that the Government have produced old NIC, or young NIC, as it may be, and have sprung it on the trade unions.
I would have thought that most of us in this House, except perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester—and even he may be in favour of it—would be in favour of some form of an incomes policy if it is workable; but this is not going to be an incomes commission. It is in fact a complete euphemism in that sense. It means a wages commission, and it means to the trade unions, unfortunately, a wages restraint commission. It will hardly even deal with salaries. How in fact this Commission is at this moment going to adjudicate on these highly technical claims based 93 on skills and all the differentials that are involved, which may bring in questions like fringe benefit, and so on, which now take up a lot of the time of a large number of negotiating bodies; and how, unless it is to be a vast bureaucracy with a very great staff, it is going to undertake this task at the moment, I simply do not know.
I think there is a case for a body to do the sort of thing that the various Royal Commissions or Committees, on doctors' pay, and so on, have done. There is a great deal to be said for a continuing body working on things of that sort. But I simply cannot see how, except on the basis of the Government's throwing off their responsibility to this body, it can possibly undertake what the Government expect of it. There is, of course, no mention of profits. It is just conceivable that the Government, in their enthusiasm, might wish to suggest that this body looks at profits, but I think it would be exceedingly difficult for it to look at profit margins as well; and, unless it is going to investigate all the industry of this country and take over the Government, I think it is a very doubtful starter.
My Lords, there is another argument against this. For a hundred years we in this country have been building up a system of wages settlement and collective bargaining, and that system has essentially been built up against a democratic background of individual unions doing the best for their members, sometimes (though not always) heavily in competition with one another, but always trying to co-operate. The introduction of the idea of a National Incomes Commission at this moment, after ten years of the Government's obsession with their particular mythology of "setting the people free", as I think my noble friend Lord Stonham said, is not such as to arouse the confidence of the unions at this moment. They would argue that the Government have had their chance. They certainly had their chance before the 1950 Election, or after they came into power in 1951, when they had the perfectly sensible (in many respects) Conservative Worker's Charter, to introduce contracts of service, and so on. But now they are looking around desperately. First of all we had the guiding light; we had the pay pause; and now we have "Nick". I would say 94 that it is an inept proposition at this moment; and the rough treatment it has had from the trade union leaders is a measure of their suspicion of the Government's attitude. To introduce it at a moment when costs are rising, and when the economy, let us face it, is still relatively stagnant—even though noble Lords may say it is going to expand, we do know that it is relatively stagnant—is extremely unfavourable.
My Lords, I do not think that we can work an incomes policy nationally, and I do not believe that a democratic Government, whether it be a Conservative Government or a Labour Government, can do it in this country, except against a background of continued expansion. It can be done only if we can achieve the sort of 4 per cent. annual increase mentioned, so that individual groups will not be worse off as a result of particular allocations of wage benefit or increase in one direction. It is only, in fact, by having this sort of expansion that we can hope to solve our problems, including the problem to which I think the noble Lord, Lord Molson referred—that is, the problem of the industries which are declining, and in which it will not be possible to avert the decline; and in Which, to be frank, it may not be desirable to try to avert the decline. But we cannot deal with them unless we are in an expansionist situation in which costs are increasing.
If we leave aside what I would have called the mythologies in which this Government have indulged in the last few years, and which they may now be departing from, the problem is still this two-year cycle of difficulties in our balance of payments. It is extremely difficult to correlate the exact effect of our balance-of-payments difficulties with inflation; but I am sure that all noble Lords, and I should hope in time all Governments (and I certainly would include this Government) are aware of the absurdity of running the affairs of a nation of 50 million people on short-term movements of this kind. For even if certain remedial measures work, as the noble Lord, Lord Hawke said, they are apt to work at the wrong time, and you find yourself accelerating as you go downhill and braking as you go uphill. In fact, one of the main conclusions of the Radcliffe Report was that one of the 95 remedial measures taken by the Government has always tended to work at the wrong time.
We are still in a vulnerable position, and the expansion and progress of this country depend to a very large extent on our ability, by means that may be quite irrelevant to our Teal needs, to convince people abroad that it is worth while hanging on to sterling. There are certain encouraging signs. There has been an increase in the meetings of GATT which again points to a certain freeing of trade. But I should have thought the main objective that any Government ought to pursue now—and I hope that the new Chancellor will do this—is an advance to still more and more international liquidity; and, in particular, some form of protection or security for the two main currencies, the dollar and sterling, which are apt to be so vulnerable. It is inconceivable that a firm would be made bankrupt, would be unable to get accommodation and would have to cut back production if it faced the sort of minimal difficulty in terms of its total operations that this country may have had to face; and a bad year's trading would very rarely knock out a successful company. What we need is the equivalent of an international bank that will do what a bank or other credit-providing institution can do in this country. I know that it is too much to hope that this problem will be solved in the near future, but it is the most pressing, I think, of all the economic problems which are bedevilling the expansion of this country.
My Lords, to sum up, I would say that the results the Government have achieved are not good enough. It is not that we can apply any very obvious standard of comparison. I think we can obviously point to the greater growth in Europe at the moment, and I am not necessarily meaning France or Germany, but a country like Sweden, which has maintained a fairly steady growth over a number of years. As it is, we find that the sort of things which we need to do, and which this country so particularly has a responsibility for doing (because we still accept our responsibilities in the world, I think, to a greater degree than some other countries) we have not the production to do. And it is a little late in the day for the Government to wake 96 up and talk about purpose when there has been such an obvious lack of purpose in our economic policy in the past. My Lords, I welcome the signs of some advance to economic sanity and to the puncture of mythologies, but I am not so hopeful as some noble Lords are about the effect of Government policy.
§ 7.35 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE
My Lords, when I came into the House this afternoon, rather hurriedly and a little belatedly at twenty minutes to three, the first thing that I heard was the voice of my noble friend the Leader of the House floating distantly through the Prince's Chamber informing your Lordships that he did not intend to talk about the Finance Bill, which I had previously imagined might have had something to do with this debate; but since then I believe every one of your Lordships who has spoken, except for a brief moment of aberration by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, has displayed an equal indifference to the Motion which is now before your Lordships' House, and I think it would be very unsporting of me if I were now to begin, at this time of night, to start a discussion on the Motion which we are supposed to be debating.
Having listened to this debate now for just on five hours, I really feel, quite honestly, that the only thing that is left for a Government winding-up spokesman to do is to thank your Lordships most sincerely for all the very valuable and constructive advice which has been given in this debate from all sides of the House. My noble friend Lord Aldington, to whose admirable maiden speech I will return in a minute, told us that he had once been described by the newspapers as a mugwump, and he defined this as a person affecting superiority to Party politics. As my noble friend has only lately joined us, I hope he will believe that in this House we sometimes have quite good debates on Party politics, although we have not had any Party politics to speak of this afternoon. I am sure, on the other hand, he will realise that superiority to Party politics is not always an affectation. It may more often proceed from common sense and from goodwill, as I think it has done this afternoon, and I am very grateful for 97 all the sensible, careful and sincere advice which we have had.
May I particularly express my gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Champion, for his very helpful speech? He talked about the necessity for abolishing restrictive practices, both among men and among managements, which I think was very true and well said. He added that the trade unions and the managements must both decide to get rid of restrictive practices. He argued that the discipline of an incomes policy must be imposed voluntarily by education; and I equally agree with what he said following that about the dangers of unwise and undisciplined action by certain financial organisations or certain organs of capitalism which can, if they are not controlled either by public opinion or by some other means, inflict equal damage upon our economy.
My Lords, if I may just return again now to my noble friend Lord Aldington, I should like to congratulate him on the excellence of his maiden speech. I hope that now he is in a more leisurely Chamber than the other one he may find time to come often and to contribute to our debates on all kinds of subjects. In his short and admirably expressed remarks I thought that he put the whole sense of this debate. He said that our objectives were faster growth of Britain's wealth, full employment, expansion of social services and aid to underdeveloped countries. I know that my noble friend Lord Molson, for good reasons, put these things in different order, but I took them down as I listened to my noble friend Lord Aldington, who went on to say that we were not expanding so fast as we ought to be doing; we needed increased competitiveness and the nation must have the will to grow. He thought that the nation wanted to understand more about the facts of economic life.
It is not a good thing for a Government speaker ever to indulge in too much optimism, because if you allude to something which is going well you are always accused of complacency. Your task is to think of how it could be made better. But I certainly could not accept the suggestion that there is any kind of stagnation in our economy at the present time. My noble friend Lord Molson quoted the figure of the gross national product. I have the percentage figures 98 for industrial production since 1958. Taking 1958 as 100, they are: 1959, 105; 1960, 112; 1961, 114; and now, in May of this year, it is 116. That is not an enormous rate of growth, from 100 to 116 in 4 years, but it is very far from being capable of being described as stagnation of any kind.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, the noble Earl really must know that there was a sudden burst about 1958–59 of ten points, and in fact there has been only a 3-point rise in the last three years.
§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE
My Lords, I have carefully given the figures year by year in order to moderate the excessively wide distinction which the noble Lord is trying to make. Certainly there was a greater increase from 1959 to 1960 than in the year previous or in succeeding years. We cannot expect a regular, uniform increase, because things do not work that way. There has not been one big increase followed by no increase at all. The figures have gone up from 100 in 1958 to 116 in this manner: in the first year to 105, in the next year to 112; and then we have a smaller increase from 112 to 116 in the last two years.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
My Lords, this is exceedingly confusing, to have different bases for the figures given. The noble Lord quotes 1958 as 100 and moves from there. The O.E.C.D. figures go back to 1951 and they show that our record, compared with anybody else's is exceedingly poor. After the noble Viscount's speech, I turned to those figures, because I thought that we were entitled to look at the whole 10½ years of the Conservative Government.
§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE
My Lords, if the noble Viscount wants to go back so far as that, since 1951 the rise in our standard of living has been as great as it had been during the preceding fifty years. I was going to say that I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, for not having drawn up 99 any league tables, because they are often misleading, for many reasons, which I do not think I have time to go into now, though I have done so before in economic debates in your Lordship's House. All I am putting now is that the growth in the country's industrial output makes it meaningless to talk about stagnation. It is not a word which can be applied to our economy at all at the present time.
The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, was also good enough to refer to the improvements in our exchange position and in our exports. Our exports for June have gone up to the record figure of £328 millions, and they have gone up every month this year—£300 million in January, £307 million in February, £312 million in March, £314 million in April, £316 million in May, and £328 million in June. The figure for the second quarter of the present year is £958 million, which is a substantial increase over any quarter of last year. All I am putting to your Lordships is that it is nonsense, in the light of what is happening, to talk about stagnation; but I fully agree with the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, in saying that it is not good enough. That was also said by my noble friend Lord Aldington.
I should just like to ask two questions: why do we want our economy to grow faster?; and why is it not growing so much as we want it to grow? I do not think that we want it to grow faster for purely material or selfish reasons. It is not true to say that the people of this country are thinking of nothing but material comforts and more conveniences of life. One reason why we all think that it is imperative to get a faster increase in our economic growth is because it will increase our ability to assist the underdeveloped countries as much as we want to do. I think that this is going to be one of the greatest tasks in international politics in the 1960's. If we are not able to fulfil that task, then freedom and the future of the whole of humanity will suffer. Together with the United States and with all other industrial countries, we have got to help the peoples in Africa, in Asia and in South America. Whether we do it from inside the Common Market, where many of us believe we could do it far more 100 effectively, because the whole point of the Common Market is to have a larger unit of production, like the United States, which is able to have a great export which can be used to help underdeveloped countries, or Whether we do it from outside, it has got to be done. That is one of the reasons why we want a quicker growth in our production.
Why is it not growing fast enough? I think that we should all agree that there are a number of reasons, but the greatest one is inflation. We have been given good advice from many quarters of the House on all kinds of aspects of managing our economic affairs. My noble friend Lord Reading and the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, both spoke about monetary policy, which is of great importance, but, of course, it is not the only instrument of economic control. One of the great disadvantages of relying entirely on monetary policy is that sometimes it not only stops inflation, but stops growth as well. It stops a whole lot of enterprises which you do not want stopped.
The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, and others, my noble friend Lord Molson in particular, have talked about the need for more competition, of the many ways in which we can try to encourage competition and discourage inefficiency. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, particularly asked what we were going to do about retail price maintenance. As your Lordships know, the President of the Board of Trade has been considering with his ministerial colleagues whether any changes are called for in the Restrictive Trade Practices Act, 1956. It is a problem of very great difficulty which has given rise to sharp divisions of opinion. We have not yet reached a conclusion as to whether any development of that Act is necessary, but as soon as my right honourable friend has done so he will, of course, inform Parliament. Your Lordships are already aware of the action which is proposed in the Molony Report. Whether or not it will be associated with another Weights and Measures Bill I do not know. Whenever I see the noble Lords, Lord Stonham, Lord Latham, Lord Silkin and others sitting opposite I think bitterly of the many long days and nights that we spent toiling with this Bill and I 101 earnestly hope that, if it should be produced again in the next Session, the other place will not arrange their affairs so inefficiently that they will not be able to give any attention to it at all.
There is the monetary policy, encouragement of competition, and, as the noble Lord, Lord Champion, so rightly argued, there is the need to remove restrictive practices, both by trade unions and employers; practices which were started long ago in order to deal with the situation in which unemployment was prevalent, and which are now 30 years out of date. There is the possibility of controls of all kinds. I have often told your Lordships that we do not rule out controls. The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, suggested this afternoon that we should prohibit or control those imports which we need least of all, and I can assure him we have never ruled that out as a possibility. The reason why we have come down against it is that we think that, on balance, it would hurt us more than it would benefit us, because other countries would retaliate and the result would be, on balance, that our export trade would suffer.
But the main reason why we are not growing as fast as we ought, I think everybody will agree, is wage-cost inflation. It is not necessary, I thank, to go into figures showing the exact relationship between rises in incomes and productivity. What has happened again and again is that, as a result of incomes increasing a little too fast, prices have gone up, which has lowered our competitive power. The result is that our exports have gone down and our economic growth has suffered. The problem which we have been wrestling with ever since 1945 is how to prevent wage-cost inflation without interference with liberty.
My Lords, there are all kinds of ways in which you might do it if you did not mind about liberty. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, criticised the National Incomes Council which is proposed, because he thought it was an inept proposition; and, indeed, many people have criticised it because it has no power. It is purely a device for examining wage claims and focusing public opinion upon them. We all agree about that. But let us see what the alternatives 102 will be. It seems to me that the only measure not to be described as an inept proposition would be legal control of wages. That would be a very difficult thing to impose over the whole range of industry. Of course there are many indirect ways in which something of the kind might be done. One suggestion I have sometimes heard is that this payroll tax should be used not as a general tax but as a selective instrument; that a poll tax of whatever you like, say a pound a week per employee, might be imposed on any industry which increased wages beyond whatever the guiding light might be. Of course, the Government would have to decide on which industries this tax should be imposed.
That is an example of something which would have some "teeth" in it and which would not be such an inept proposition. It could not be criticised on that ground, but I do not know what is likely to be said about it by trade unions or employers, or by the country in general.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
My Lords, might I say that I am not quarrelling with the method of reply, but I am not getting at the moment any reply to the case I submitted: that, compared with other countries, there has been no undue application for increases of wages beyond other costs, and that in many other countries they have gone much higher in percentage than we have. I have had no reply upon that. As for the last remarks of the noble Earl, how does he think he is going to get the sympathy and co-operation of the trade unions on such a basis as he has just put forward?
§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE
Did I say it would get the sympathy and co-operation of the trade unions? Surely I was arguing that if you are not going to pursue a voluntary policy then what instrument are you going to propose? I asked, supposing we had a proposal of this kind, what would be said about it by the trade unions. I do not think that the noble Viscount had been listening to me. What indeed would be said by the trade unions and by public opinion?
But it is possible that methods of legal control of that kind may one day, in a different climate of public opinion, 103 come to be regarded as not being incompatible with a free country. I do not know. At present I think we must try to influence incomes and prevent price inflation by means which are not compulsory and which do not interfere with what are still regarded, and which I personally hope will always be regarded, as the political principles of a free country. That is the policy which we are now trying to pursue. We believe, as my noble friend behind me said, that independent and informed public opinion in this country is taking a greater interest in economics than it used to do, and therefore our hope is that liberty, freedom of negotiation, may be preserved, and that it will be possible to preserve it. It is a very difficult task to preserve freedom of contract without interfering with the right of people to earn and to pay what they wish. We hope that this will be possible in future in a condition of full employment; that we may be able to preserve full employment with individual freedom in this country.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a: Committee negatived.
§ Then, Standing Order No. 41 having been suspended (pursuant to the Resolution of July 25), Bill read 3a, and passed.