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Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [16th August],
That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, as followeth:
Most Gracious Sovereign,
We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament."—[Major Freeman.]
You have indicated, Mr. Speaker, that it would be suitable this afternoon if we devoted our attention in the main to those passages in the Gracious Speech which refer to the subject of trade, industry and finance, and therefore I will confine my remarks to that part of the Gracious Speech. To refresh the memory of the House I think I had better read the passage with which I shall particularly deal:
My Government will take up with energy the tasks of reconverting industry from the purposes of war to those of peace, of expanding our export trade, and of securing by suitable control or by an extension of public ownership that our industries and services shall make their maximum contribution to the national well-being. The orderly solution of these difficult problems will require from all My people efforts comparable in intensity and public spirit to those which have brought us victory in war.
In order to promote employment and national development machinery will be set up to provide for the effective planning of investment, and a Measure will be laid before you to bring the Bank of England under public ownership.
I would, above all, like to elicit from His Majesty's Government more information concerning their policy in this field, and I think that the House, the country and our overseas customers and friends are entitled to ask for a greater definition of the nature of some of these proposals and policies. I shall also refer later to some of the notable omissions from the Gracious Speech, which strike me as nothing short of astonishing, and I hope that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, when he comes to reply, will feel able to dilate upon some of those omissions at perhaps the same length with which he deals with some of the things which are in the Gracious Speech. The passage which I have quoted refers in the first place to the subject of what the Prime Minister called in his speech last week "paying our way," a phrase which the Leader of the House has often used, and to which I know His Majesty's Government attach no less importance than the rest of us. It is a vital matter. Some of us may consider that the words which deal with this subject are rather obvious, rather perfunctory and even jejune, but, be that as it may, I think there is no one in any part of the House who would dissent from their general tenor, but it is true that the Speech is silent on the means by which these laudable objects are to be achieved. I am sure that no one would wish at this early moment to be unduly critical on that subject. We are aware that the Government were found without a very detailed policy, and they now have to translate into practical terms the general purposes which, during the General Election and before they took office, were enunciated in—what shall I say?—less hesitant terms than those now used.
If the House will bear with me, I would like to refer, and in an entirely constructive spirit, to the question of our export trade. The value of our exports in 1944 was £256,000,000, compared with £471,000,000 in 1938. The figures of the volume of exports are still more striking and significant. Taking 1938 as 100 we find that, in volume, they had actually gone down to the figure of 29 in 1943 and 31 in 1944. It has been widely stated, and I think I have been guilty of saying it myself, that our exports must increase by at least 50 per cent over pre-war in volume, but actual facts and cir- cumstances, through the prolongation of the German war, make that figure out of date and we must aim at an even higher target. I do not think anyone would dissent if I were to say that any examination, however cursory, of these targets would show that they are difficult to achieve and will require great drive and energy over the next two or three years, and of course they cannot be attained only by our own action. Here are matters which depend upon the wishes of our own overseas customers, they are not within our own control alone nor within our own volition.
The right type of goods offered at the right prices will find a ready market, at any rate for the next two or three years, but after that time our ability to sell our goods is less sure. The failure of crops in the agricultural countries of our customers, due to the action of the sun and the rain, over which even His Majesty's present advisers cannot maintain control, may cause a sharp fall in the demands of those countries. Their desires may alter, or they may find it difficult to pay. The point I am making is that the field of exports and export industry is the least suitable for Government regimentation, interference, or control. The targets we must aim at are certainly high, and the exporting industries cannot attain them unless they are freed from many of the great disabilities under which they are suffering to-day. I am not using the word, "disabilities," in the critical sense, because it was necessary during the war that these restrictions should be imposed.
To-day, we all know that labour and material are the principal bottlenecks in the re-establishment of our export trade, but in no contentious spirit I say that swaddling clothes—and the export industries have got plenty of them round them—are not the vestments of virility. There are, to-day, too many formalities, too many Departments from which to obtain clearance. It should be the object of His Majesty's Government to examine most closely the licensing regulations, checks and general arrangements, some of which I sincerely suggest have passed out of the field of being necessary into the field of being merely vexatious. A Government Department can promote and foster export trade and remove obstacles or obstructions from it; in the expressive American phrase it can "green light" exports. But what it cannot do is to replace the knowledge of the product and its marketing which has been gained by those who have been making and selling that product for a great many years. The President of the Board of Trade will, I hope, take industry fully into his confidence.
I am sorry that there is no representative of the Board of Trade or the Department of Overseas Trade on the Government Front Bench at the moment. The President told me that he could not be here, but I am sorry that he has not sent someone else. I hope he will feel able to take industry fully into his confidence, and will follow its advice, wherever it does not conflict too sharply with his political predilections. He may feel that it is conceivable that men who have devoted a great many years to a particular industry may even know more about it than the Department over which he presides, although, of course, he must confess that the judgment of industrialists may be somewhat obscured by the absurd idea that they should be allowed to make a profit before handing it all back to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Since visible and, indeed, invisible exports are plainly difficult to obtain, there is one field to which I hope the President will pay particular attention, the field of imports of manufactured goods. I hope that the closest scrutiny will be made of the whole volume of our imports of manufactured goods, to see if there are not some products which we cannot ourselves make in this country, which, we previously used to import, and which will give an outlet to the skill, energy, and ingenuity of our workers and managements and, at the same time, conserve our money abroad, of which, in the next few years, we shall be sadly short.
It is also necessary to think of some of these products which a change in the habits of life will make necessary for our people and which, if we do not start making at once for ourselves, we shall have to import. I mean things like electrical household appliances, electric washing machines and kitchen apparatus, of which the consumption is so much higher in America per capita than in this country. These sort of appliances alleviate very greatly the lot of the housewife and in doing so frequently alleviate the lot of her husband. On these subjects I feel that we still have too much of the mentality of the world's creditor, that we lack realisation of the fact that we are to-day the world's largest debtor, and that we cannot afford to import manufactured articles which we can make within our own frontiers at competitive prices. Those are my first two points.
The last point I want to make before I leave the question of export trade concerns the Department of Overseas Trade. I would like to say that I feel keen pleasure in seeing—in the eye of the mind—the hon. Member for East Cardiff (Mr. Marquand), a new Member of the House, holding the office of Secretary of the Department of Overseas Trade. [Hon. Members: "Where is he?"] But it would also be true to say, and I must say it, that that pleasure is tinged with regret, when I think that he has replaced in this Parliament a public servant of great distinction. Sir James Grigg. [Laughter.] I see no cause for anyone to laugh. The hon. Member for East Cardiff will make his maiden speech from the Front Bench and join the select fellowship of which I am proud to be a member in so doing. I think he will be reinforced in making that speech by the knowledge that be has been a student in what he will regard in future as a very good school—the Ministry of Production.
I would like to say, quite flatly, that I consider the present organisation of the Department of Overseas Trade, in relation to the Board of Trade, to be anomalous, if not absurd. There cannot be export policy in one compartment and trade policy for the home market in another. Nearly always the product for export comes from the same factory as the product for the home consumer, and the artificial line drawn in Whitehall between exports and home markets is, from an organisational standpoint, entirely unsound. However, I have some reason to hope that the President of the Board of Trade——
I have some reason to hope that the President of the Board of Trade will be sympathetic to what I am now suggesting, that he will reorganise these Departments, so that while the Department of Overseas Trade maintains its particular control and contact with commercial counsellors overseas, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade and the Secretary of the Overseas Trade Department can be given particular responsibility, and that they will as Ministers, in future, be regarded as largely interchangeable, and as following a single policy laid out to cover the whole field of home and export.
Now I wish to draw attention to some notable omissions from the Gracious Speech, omissions which, as I have said, I regard as little short of astonishing. There is not one word about the attitude of the Government towards economic collaboration with other countries, and, in particular, the United States. It would be unreasonable to expect all things to be covered in a single Speech, but the omission of this subject entirely would give the impression that His Majesty's Government had not noticed the fact that the Bretton Woods Agreement has now become part of the law of America, and that under that Agreement those countries which wish to adhere to the scheme or reject it, have to notify their adherence or rejection by 31st December.
This is a matter which is bound to come on to the Floor of this House very soon after we reassemble in October. There is not a word about it in the King's Speech. The same general remarks apply with equal force to those matters which are generally referred to as Article VII matters—that is Article VII of the Treaty of Mutual Aid, which dealt with commercial policy and our relations with the United States covering a large number of vital matters relating to commerce. While the Gracious Speech refers to certain matters of domestic concern of no great urgency—I was thinking of the public ownership of the Bank of England, to which I shall refer later—and touches upon certain matters, upon which little thought or work can have been expended, the most urgent of all subjects, the very kernel of the whole of our economic position and future, is passed by in silence.
I hope the House does not think I am exaggerating when I use those words. If I were accused of exaggeration, I should reply, with the deepest sincerity, that the standard of life of every citizen of this country, and of nearly every citizen of the British Empire and Commonwealth, depends upon our receiving sympathetic help and the largest measure of financial aid from the United States. This is not a matter which merely concerns the student of economics; it is a matter which affects every citizen, which affects the amount of food we can put upon our tables in the future, which affects the future of our relations with many countries in the sterling area and in our own Dominions. The facts are that the power to produce in so many of our industries is based upon raw materials, which must be imported from abroad. I challenge anyone in the House to deny that without American aid, our standard of life is bound to fall, and will fall even below that austerity to which it has been reduced in the war.
Borrowing immediately raises the question at what rate of interest. We require aid at the lowest possible rate of interest at which they can give it us, and with a term of redemption of the longest possible date.
We either need to borrow more money from America, or else to obtain interest-free loans or, if the United States like to give us the money, so much the better. [Hon. Members: "Oh."] I am interested to see the lively interest taken in this subject by Members on the opposite side of the House. Let them not think that because citizens of the United States have no votes in this country, our attitude towards these matters can be wrapped in this very significant silence. I ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the President of the Board of Trade and the Minister of Food to compile a statement as soon as possible, which will show the value, during the war years 1943–44–45, of the food and raw materials—and how we shall see the significance of increasing our indebtedness to the United States—which have been supplied to us, without payment, under the terms of the Lend-Lease Act.
I should also like to have a statement on what proportion these supplies bear to the total consumption of this country in these categories. When this statement and information are available, the House will be able to see how large is the gap which we have to fill and give some idea of the extent to which we shall require financial help, of whatever kind, to enable us to fill it. How does the Chancellor of the Exchequer propose to finance, and how do the President of the Board of Trade and the Minister of Food propose to procure, these vital supplies which are the very life-blood of our country if we cannot obtain a full measure of American aid—aid which has been poured out in so generous a measure during the war? May I say, in no censorious or sarcastic vein, that if you need assistance from a country—and how we need it—the best way to obtain it is not to affront, on every possible occasion, the opinion of that country by criticising and sneering at things in this field which they hold most dear, namely, the overriding contribution which private enterprise has to make if the world is to be rebuilt. [Interruption.] There is much worse coming. I have here a document which has recently reached me from America. I will read a paragraph:
The rights of private property and free choice of action under a system of private competitive capitalism must continue to be the foundation of our nation's peaceful and prosperous expanding economy. Free competition and free men are the strength of our free society,
and so on, in the same vein. Hon. Members opposite may think that document was a statement by some sinister American financier or capitalist. Remarkably, it is called "A Charter for Labour Management" and it is signed by Mr. William Green, President of the American Federation of Labour. [Interruption.] It is most exhilarating to find how well these points are taken by hon. Members. It is also sighed by Mr. Philip Murray, President of the Congress of Industrial Organisation—the C.I.O.—and by Mr. Eric Johnson, President of the Chamber of Commerce of the United States. I am very willing to
lay this document on the Table, if any hon. Member thinks that he can get refreshment or advice from its terms.
Would the right hon. Gentleman state whether the statement by the two leaders of labour in the U.S.A., which he mentioned, referred to this country, or to the U.S.A.?
I think the object of the hon. Member's intervention is to carry on the argument. I thought at first he was seeking to put me right on a matter of fact. The point I was making was that if you wish to obtain assistance from the United States—[Hon. Members: "Answer the question."] The question is quite irrelevant to the subject on which I was talking. If you wish to obtain assistance from the United States, you must be careful about the critical things which you say about private enterprise. I have no doubt the hon. Member has said many of them in the course of debate, but they will affront American opinion. It is quite possible—[Interruption.]
I was only saying that I do not think these matters should be put in the forefront of our relations with the United States. I am heartily tired of the very name, but Professor Laski has been saying——[Interruption.] I am glad to see that hon. Members are as tired of his name as I am, but it is really necessary to say that he occupies a responsible position from which the Labour Party have, hitherto, been unable to dislodge him. He is saying things which, I tell hon. Members with the greatest sincerity, are making the task of His Majesty's Government very much more difficult.
I regard that intervention of the hon. and learned Gentleman as very amusing, but very unfortunate, because in the United States—I say this from very wide personal and public contacts with people in that country—these remarks of Professor Laski are treated very seriously, and when the hon. and learned Gentleman says that he can easily be removed, it is only reinforcing the opinion of the United States that this is part of a policy of the Labour Party.
The silence on the subject of Bretton Woods and Article VII—significant though it is at this time—is, I fear, only one more evidence of how Socialist thought on economic matters tends to concentrate very much on domestic problems within our own frontiers in the United Kingdom. Now it is necessary to look into the world to a much greater extent—a world made up of diverse opinions, systems and parties—and when Socialists do take a cursory glance outside our own country, some of them—I am not going to mention names—not without authority, even if they are without authenticity, would have us believe that our relations with France, for example, depend on whether she becomes a Socialist State or not. France can give us, and we can give her, much help. But how do these doctines apply to our relations with the United States—the very citadel of private enterprise and an example of a high standard of life? What if she were to adopt the Professor's attitude, and say she will only carry out these arrangements with a country of strong individualistic tendencies? [Interruption.] I do not think she is going to say that at all, but I understand the Leader of the House to make some interjection, that what I was saying was mischievous.
It is nothing of the kind. All I say is that we should try not to get into too exacerbated and ideological controversies with those who take an entirely different view of these matters from that which we take ourselves. On this point of concentrating on particular Socialistic thoughts, on matters inside our own frontiers, I think some of this arises from an admiration of the Russian economic system. There are even some slavish admirers of it. I am not without some admiration of it myself. Others think that the American way of life and thought and approach to these matters are admirable. But the point I want to make is that neither of these systems can be imitated or applied in our own country. Both these great Alliedcountries—small worlds in themselves—can, if they wish, live in a closed economy and with very little assistance or importation from outside. They can live upon their own resources. These small islands cannot do so. We cannot base ourselves either on the Russian or the American system. Imports are our life-blood, and exports to pay for them are consequently our life-blood. We have to rebuild our position as the carriers, bankers and insurers—as the produce merchants and clearing house of the world—if we are to maintain our standards of life. We must depend on these if we are to regain many of the things we sacrificed in the course of the war.
Now I must turn from the words concerning trade and industry, which many of us on this side of the House feel are obscure and perfunctory, to phrases which are certainly not perfunctory, but only vague. I hope that on this subject I shall speak with a due sense of responsibility. I do not propose to offer very much criticism, because frankly there is not the material on which to base it. In other words, my remarks on this subject will be interrogatory. The first of these vague phrases deals with the national planning of investment. If this means that as a temporary measure the control of capital issues is to continue, I personally will applaud it. I believe in control where the demand for anything greatly exceeds the supply, but I think control should be taken off as soon as those conditions no longer exist. Before the advent of the present Government to power, I thought it was reasonably certain that the demand for capital would have exceeded the supply, at least in the short run, but to-day's great uncertainties with which the Government have surrounded the business community—I do not want to be unfair, and that may be due to the short time they have been in office—will certainly reduce the demand for capital in the near future. As long as there is an excess of those wishing to borrow over those wishing to lend, I am in favour of an extension of the present arrangement of the Capital Issues Committee. I think it is sensible to have a board or some body closely in touch with the Government, to decide the order of importance with which demands for capital are to be met—at least demands for capital which concern us domestically.
No one present would deny that amenities will have to take an honourable second place to necessities; that public authorities must build houses before libraries, and that we must restore our factories before we start pulling down to make way for roads and open spaces. Do these proposals go beyond those limited and laudable objects? Are the Government, in this vague phrase, really starting on a new and untried method? It is not strictly accurate to say "new," because Nazi Germany had something of the same kind. Do they seek a method of directing all private investments into channels approved by the Government and also seek to control the volume of private investments? Does such an idea, if it enters the Government's mind, apply equally to power to borrow and to lend, and to spend your own money?
Let me try to illuminate these rather difficult topics by means of an illustration. Suppose that a company is making confectionery. I choose that product as being one which is desirable, but not exactly a necessity. Suppose the company has, for the last 10 years, accumulated reserves to modernise and improve its plant and expand its businesss, and that these reserves have been invested, no doubt in response to some national appeal by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in Government securities. Are the Government going to say to that company, "You must not self your Government securities if you are going to spend that money in your own business; you must sell them out, and invest the money in some other way. Personally, we think that houses are a higher priority than confectionery"? I hardly think that that is the intention. If it is not the intention, then the whole field of borrowing and spending your own money will be left out, and the whole idea of this sort of plan will become impracticable so far as that Held is concerned, because it leaves out of account by far the commonest, most usual and, incidentally, most economical and flexible means by which the capital demands for industry are usually met—by using accumulated profits or by borrowing from one of the joint stock banks against the expectation of profits being continued in the future.
Business does not live by capital issues alone, and if borrowing and spending your own money were embraced by the national plan, how can the Government escape responsibility for the investments which they dictate as being worthy of support by the investor? Further, to do this would require, at a time when the Civil Service is strained to the utmost, a staff of thousands and also the quintessential wisdom of trade, industry and finance to be distilled into a single board, which would then turn out to be quite inadequate for the multifarious duties assigned to it.
I ask the Government to consider not only this little country, but the great areas which owe their allegiance to, and carry on their business in, sterling. The sterling-using countries will accept with patience a system, during the transitional period, when the demand for capital exceeds the supply, but will quickly reject and resent any suggestion of permanence in such a policy. While there is a short supply of capital, will those companies in the Dominions, control of which is in British hands, not go elsewhere to deposit their funds to carry on their business operations and insurance if they think that their policy is to be subjected to a National Planning Board, whose principal preoccupation is with the level of prices and course of economic development in this island? The House is entitled to know the answers to these questions, and I will ask one more. Is this the way to start to rebuild our position in the world and to regain our position as a financial centre?
Now I turn to the subject, mentioned in the Gracious Speech, of public ownership of the Bank of England. I am going to ask a few questions. I shall do no more, and I hope I am approaching the matter, again, with a due sense of responsibility. Presumably, the word "nationalisation" or the phrase "Government control" have been omitted on purpose. If the intention is—and I would like the Chancellor to say so plainly—to buy Bank of England stock from the private holders and set up a board or court of the Bank of England independent of the Government from day to day, although subject to appointments by the Chancellor, and, in the case of irreconcilable difference, dismissal by the Chancellor, then I would regard such a step as neither wise nor necessary, but I would not regard it as particularly dangerous. Such a set-up would mean that, if there was this con- flict of opinion between the Bank and the Treasury, there would be an opportunity to ventilate the subject on the Floor of this House, before final steps were taken. May I ask the Chancellor whether I am right in supposing that these are the general lines on which he intends to proceed? We shall, very early, wish to hear the detailed scheme relating to this most important subject.
I said that such a system would not be wise or necessary, and so far I have only explained why I do not think it would be dangerous. It is not wise, for the simple reason that the present system, evolved and matured over hundreds of years, worked, I think, perfectly. [Interruption.] I shall produce evidence supplied by one of the leading financial experts of the Labour Party to reinforce my words. The Government have, in fact, all the influence they wish to have over the policy of the Bank of England at this moment. The hon. Member for Chippenham (Mr. Eccles) last week quoted a statement by the Secretary of State for India in praise of the working of the present system. I am quite sure that the Government will fight the evil of inflation to the best of their ability. It is more than ever necessary to do so, at a time when the Government are proposing to fiddle with the constitution of the Bank of England and when a slightly shocked public sees the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street, who for so long has been living in a chaste spinsterhood, being hurried incontinently to the altar and married out of hand to a Government of three weeks' standing—a Government, I admit, which comes to the House with a very large electoral dowry.
Is this the right time, when we wish to re-establish and reaffirm the solidity of British credit and the position of London as a financial centre for our own goods, and not only for the sterling area, but also for European and world-wide business, to give even the slightest impression that an institution so famous and respected throughout the world is about to be turned into a mere Government agency? I feel sure that it is not the intention of the Government, but it would help if the Chancellor felt able to confirm my opinion, which is merely based upon an admiration of his character and not from the study of an official document.
Here, again, we see the marked tendency in the Government, and in Socialist thought as a whole, to concentrate overmuch on the domestic aspects of banking, and not consider widely enough its other implications. Perhaps that is quite natural after a fortnight's study of these matters. The Bank of England is not only the central bank of issue, the banker of the joint stock banks in these islands; it is the banker of the whole sterling area and much else. It represents the very hub of that system, and, just as the planning of national investments which will ignore the international aspect would be unwise, so it is very necessary that the constitution of the new Bank of England should be framed in such a way that every sterling-using country can consult the Bank on their affairs, without feeling that they are to be dominated entirely by the domestic interests of His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland. We shall scrutinise with the utmost attention the detailed arrangements to be put forward by the Chancellor, and I would remind the right hon. Gentleman most particularly to take into account some of those broader international considerations on which I have ventured to dilate.
If this change in the constitution of the Bank of England turns out to be a mere ledger entry, and the Court of the Bank is free, day by day, to act independently of the Government, I can see no particular danger. I must frankly say that I am no admirer of ledger entries or of reform for reform's sake, in times when, in fact, the Government are complete masters of the credit situation in this country, and, under the present system, will always remain so.
My last point is my main criticism of the Gracious Speech, and that is that it is very unsure and creates so much uncertainty. From the point of view of re-establishing our trade, and, in fact, getting on with the job, this uncertainty is most vicious. I beg the Government to take an early opportunity, as a matter of policy, to resolve these uncertainties by letting us know how far they are going in certain directions. It is a truism that uncertainty is the worst enemy of business enterprise, and of the will and power to expand. These are of vital and urgent importance to-day, and, therefore, I hope that some of these uncertainties will be resolved. There are certain phases—"extension of public ownership" for example—which are extremely vague, and I beg the Government to give an early and precise definition. The patients are entitled to know whether they are in for decapitation, a major surgical operation, or some mere dietary regime which will merely cut off part of their beer and sugar. Without these un-certainties being resolved, certain people, perhaps groundlessly, will be thinking that they are going to be decapitated and will be discouraged from using their heads in the meanwhile. Others may expect that they are going to survive, and those who are to be put on a dietary regime may well breathe a sigh of relief, but, in any case they should all know the nature of their treatment. In beekeeping the hope of honey is frequently more potent than the menace of stings, and the right hon. Gentleman will perhaps recognise the phrase. Figure-skating on the thin ice of public and international confidence is no doubt a most exhilarating sport, but it frequently ends in disaster to the ice and consequently to the skater. Let us have a little firm ice under our feet before the Government attempt to execute some of their more exuberant evolutions or revolutions.
May I conclude by saying, with great respect, that I regard this Government as a very promising Government? [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] Hon. Members who applaud have apparently ignored the fact that this phrase has a double meaning. It means also that the Government have promised a great deal, and let me say, with the deepest sincerity, that I hope that profligacy in promise and paucity in performance will not turn out to be their epitaph.
The right hon. Gentleman who has just addressed us with his customary felicity of phrase has, like myself, occupied the office of the President of the Board of Trade. He has done so for two periods, and I only for one, but I am not sure that my one period was not longer than his two. I am sure that he and I will be in agreement, as will my right hon. and learned Friend who now holds that office, in desiring to see the most vigorous and active steps taken to build up our export trade as rapidly, speedily and effectively as possible. On that I am sure there will be no difference anywhere in this House. There is no need to indulge in metaphysical discussions. The purpose of export trade is not metaphysical but physical. It is to secure food and other necessities from across the seas. There is no other sensible purpose in export activities. It is a purpose of supreme importance and urgency, and I am quite sure that my right hon. and learned Friend will do his utmost to take full advantage of the drive and energy that may be forthcoming from the various bodies in industry engaged in export operations, and to support them to the best of his ability.
For example, there is the cotton industry in Lancashire, which I visited several times when I was President of the Board of Trade, and which the right hon. Gentleman also visited. May I say how happy we were that his visit was not brought to a premature conclusion through misadventure in the air? My right hon. and learned Friend the present President has also visited Lancashire. We have all gone there with the same purpose, to try and stimulate those who conduct the Lancashire cotton industry to show even more energy and fresh ideas in the pursuit of this purpose, the rapid expansion of the production of cotton goods for export, even more urgently than for our own home requirements, urgent as they are. I am confident that I can give a pledge on behalf of the Government as a whole that we shall not continue to use any formalities or any going to and fro between Government Departments which can be eliminated and abbreviated in the interests of getting our trade quickly started, provided there is not some real and genuine purpose behind the formalities in question.
Looking upon the outer world—we do that sometimes, though the right hon. Gentleman seemed doubtful whether we did—it is clearly the case that we must take such steps as we can, as speedily and actively as we can, to bring the balance of overseas trade as rapidly towards equilibrium as possible. That cannot be done in a day, in the twinkling of an eye, but we must press forward to expand our exports and reduce our dependence on imports, in so far as we import commodities which can be effec- tively produced at home. There have been failures of private enterprise in this field. I became aware of them when I was President of the Board of Trade. No alarm clocks were made in this country. When we wanted to awaken our workers we suddenly found that we had to bring large quantities of alarm clocks from across the sea. Private enterprise in this country was not able to provide alarm clocks. The greater part of ladies' fully fashioned stockings had to be imported before the war. When I was President I endeavoured to set going one or two new industrial concerns, particularly in the development areas, to repair from home production this gap in the equipment of the fairer sex. In the light of my own observations, experience and endeavours I am therefore heartily in agreement with the right hon. Gentleman that we must seek to stimulate drive and inventiveness and energy on the part of many sections of our home industrialists, to produce efficiently here goods which in the past have been quite needlessly imported from foreign countries. That will be of help in bridging the gap on which the right hon. Gentleman has dwelt.
I do not think all his observations regarding our relations with America were quite as tactful as I would have expected, and I do not propose to follow him in detail over that part of the ice on which he was performing figure skating. I would recall that only at Question Time today—in reply to a question by my hon. Friend, who has always taken a great interest in the matter—I renewed the assurance given by the late Government that Bretton Woods would not be either accepted or rejected by His Majesty's Government without full debate and examination in this House. I have renewed that pledge, and at the right moment, which has not yet quite arrived, the House will be able to examine all these matters with frankness, and, I hope, with a large measure of agreement. That is all I propose to say on that particular part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech, which as I have said, was not very opportune.
The right hon. Gentleman asked a number of question regarding the proposals in the Gracious Speech. I would like to answer some of the points he raised, but the House would not expect me, indeed it would be infinitely tedious, if I were to attempt to go over, on the occasion of this Debate, details of the legislation which will be brought before the House in the Autumn. When we meet again we shall table Bills to carry out the proposals in the Gracious Speech with regard to the Bank of England and the planning of investment, and the detail can then be discussed. But I will certainly give now some broad indications of what we intend. As regards the Bank of England we said, in a document which the right hon. Gentleman may have noticed, containing a V sign in bright red upon the cover, and entitled "Let us Face the Future"—and we are facing it now—that the Bank of England, with its financial powers, must be brought under public ownership. The right hon Gentleman who leads the Opposition was kind enough to observe, on the first day of the general Debate, that national ownership of the Bank of England did not, in his opinion, raise any matters of principle. He went on to remind the House, and I am glad that he did so, of the position in the United States and in our Dominions—and, he might have added, in a large number of foreign countries, including some of those of Scandinavia—where financial affairs have been conducted with great competence and efficiency under the guidance, for the most part, of Socialist Governments. He reminded the House, in fact, that we in this country are in a very small minority among the nations in so far as our central bank is not already under national ownership.
I do not want to quibble over the word. "Public ownership" was the term used by the right hon. Gentleman and in the Gracious Speech.
To a large extent the change we propose will have the effect of bringing the law into accord with the facts of the situation as they have developed. There are today, and have long been, I am glad to say, close, confidential, and friendly relations between those who speak for the Bank of England and the high officials of the Treasury. The Bank of England and the Treasury are in constant contact. It is good that it should be so. That, I have no doubt, will continue after the law is changed as we propose. But the private stockholders will disappear from the scene, carrying with them compensation, the details of which can be discussed when the legislation is considered by the House. Our intention is clear; they will be fairly treated. How to give effect to this intention in this particular context we will discuss when we bring the Bill before the House. They will lose those powers—which indeed have fallen into considerable desuetude—which they still legally possess. As things are, a pre-concerted gathering of a small group of these stockholders, presenting themselves in the Bank Parlour on a certain day, would be able to present the most unsuitable person for election as Governor.
Would not my right hon. Friend agree that there was an instance in 1925 of the kind of thing to which he has referred, when the right hon. Gentleman, who was then Chancellor of the Exchequer and knew nothing whatever about the subject, put this country back upon the gold standard at the instance of the Bank of England, and against the advice of everybody else?
It may well be that both Lord Snowden and the right hon. Gentleman were influenced by advice tendered to them by the representative of the stockholders, Lord Norman, then Mr. Montagu Norman. But that is not exactly the point with which I was dealing. The Bank of England has the duty to advise the Government from time to time, but it is the responsibility of Ministers whether they accept the advice, or modify it or wholly reject it. On the constitutional point I was pointing out that we propose to eliminate the stockholders with proper compensation, and thus to make it abundantly clear that Government ownership of the Bank carries with it in the ultimate resort the power of direction and decision on matters falling within the ambit of discussion. It must be made clear beyond a shadow of doubt where the ultimate power rests. It must rest, not with a body of private stockholders, even though they seldom exercise it, but with His Majesty's Government in the case of so important an institution as a central bank. The Government must be responsible for it to the House of Commons, and through them to the people of the country, who have suffered grievously in past years through unwise decisions taken by persons associated in the past with the Bank of England.
I hasten to add that it is not intended by us that there should be constant interference by the Government with the day to day work of the Bank. In the future, as in the past, that work will be in capable and expert hands, and there will continue to be, as now, day to day contact and exchange of views between the Bank and the officials of the Treasury. But on important points of policy the Government must have the last word, as we shall lay down in the Bill which we shall introduce.
Reference has been made to Lord Norman. I shall make no further reference to him, but I desire to make a reference to his successor, the present Governor of the Bank, Lord Catto. I desire to pay a tribute to Lord Catto, who is a great public servant and a man of wide and varied commercial experience. I met him on a number of occasions before I came to the Treasury. When I was at the Board of Trade he was always helpful on matters on which we were co-operating. Since assuming my present office I have had frank and most friendly conversations with him and I look forward to maintaining close contact with him in the future. I am happy to say that he has expressed his willingness to continue as Governor for a suitable period to inaugurate the new regime which we propose to establish. I do not believe—and I trust that the right hon. Gentleman and others will not spread the story abroad, for I believe it to be totally baseless—that the changes in the legal position of the Bank will in any way lessen the esteem in which it is held or its influence in financial circles. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the international aspects of this, and these are very important. I do not believe, as I have said, that these changes will in any way lessen the prestige of the Bank either at home or abroad. Rather I believe the contrary. The close integration of the Bank with the Government in the manner which I have explained, the passing of the private stockholder, who is either a menace or an absurdity—hon. Members may choose which, they like—and the definite laying down of close relations between the Bank and the advisers of the Government of the day should rather enhance both its prestige and its influence. That is my belief.
The right hon. Gentleman also asked about the control and the planning of investment. Here again I must not be expected to go into close detail—that will be provided in our projected legislation in the autumn—but he has correctly anticipated—and I am not surprised, because this matter has been much debated in many circles up and down the country, not merely during Election time but before—that our view is that new investment must continue to be guided in peace as in war by consideration of the national interest. We cannot be sure that that would take place if we were to allow a return to the disorderly, competitive scramble for money which used to take place in the days before the war. In those days it was not always the most meritorious person who succeeded in obtaining funds, and the competitive scramble drove up rates of interest to a height which was disadvantageous to those who had to meet the cost of borrowed money.
I am referring to those which existed both before the first world war—world war I as it is sometimes called—and which also existed for some part of the period between the two wars. I remember an issue known a "Panic Fives," but we need not go into all that to-day. I merely wish to make the point that those people who wish to get funds for purposes which should be encouraged in the national interest should come first. As the right hon. Gentleman said, houses and factories should be built before unessential luxury buildings; and secondly rates of interest should be kept as low as good management can keep them. Our purpose, therefore, is to carry out the principle of priorities in the national interest in the allocation of available funds between different objects, including the industrial re-equipment of our major industries. It is common ground that the iron, steel and cotton industries and many more will have to have a great deal of money spent upon them to bring up to date their somewhat antiquated and inefficient equipment. We must have an orderly process in this, and that is one of the purposes for which we need the planning of investments for some years ahead. There is also a tremendous need for the provision of funds for the great programme on which we shall embark.
Could the right hon. Gentleman say whether the proposals would be limited to what we may call the years ahead—the transition stage—or is the investment Measure to be of a permanent character?
We shall take powers to make it permanent. If it should appear later on that those powers should be modified, that will be for a future House of Commons to determine, but in our view there is a permanent necessity. So long as a majority of the present complexion sits here, I believe they will take the view that we need this as a permanent weapon in our armoury against what I have already described as a disorderly scramble for funds by people, a number of whom are not particularly meritorious. For the effect of the scramble is not merely that the money often passes to the wrong hands, but that rates of interest are driven up by this competitive process. I wish to make it perfectly clear that we intend to take these powers permanently.
Overseas investments will be both controlled and encouraged. The hon. and gallant Gentleman must not put the question in such a form as to create the idea that no overseas investments will be licensed or permitted by the agency which we propose to set up. At the same time, until we balance our foreign payments we shall not be able to afford as much overseas investment as in the earlier days. But all this can be discussed at length on the Bill. We intend that in the Autumn there shall be legislation which will put the present capital issues control on a permanent basis. The two new financial corporations for industry and commerce must be given appropriate places in the new scheme. I have already seen the Chairmen of these two bodies, Lord Hindley and Mr. William Piercy, and I am confident from my discussions that they will be anxious to play a most useful part in our future plans. It is not only a question of the wise direction of new investments, but it is also a question of careful timing. That point was taken in the employment policy White Paper.
No, Sir. There is an old quotation which says "de minimis non curat lex." Of course not. There will be an exemption for small borrowers. We are talking of major operations—I am sure, the House will realise this—for large sums will be necessary in order to carry through on the one hand our industrial re-equipment and on the other hand our housing programme, and we must control the flow of funds connected with these two great objects.
Much of what the Chancellor said will be of great reassurance. May I ask whether this machinery is intended to apply only to capital issues or whether it is to be extended to the relations between joint stock banks and their customers and the relations between companies and the funds which they have accumulated?
The right hon. Gentleman is asking a number of questions. He is entitled to ask them, but I think I am entitled to say that it would be better if some of these questions were answered in discussion of the Bill which we shall introduce soon after the House meets in the Autumn. Otherwise, we shall extend the Debate to a length which will be inconvenient to hon. Members who wish to take part in the discussion. I want, however, to be sure that the purpose of our operations is made clear; it is that we shall have a national plan for the use of our national resources in finance not less than in materials and in labour. In considering exactly how this plan can be effectively operated, we shall be glad when we introduce the Measure to examine any suggestions which come either in the form of speech or amendment.
No, Sir. It is not possible to answer simply a question involving a number of separate alternatives. We are not taking account of small amounts. We are aiming at the control of the movement of large sums of money for new enterprises.
We are deeply indebted to the right hon. Gentleman for the very great patience and courtesy which he is showing to questions which are addressed to him, but it does seem to me to be very important that the main outline, at any rate, of this proposal should be definitely before the House before we separate. We should not have great uncertainty and vagueness overhanging a whole vast sphere of operations of great consequence to the right hon. Gentleman as Chancellor of the Exchequer.
I am quite prepared to make this general statement on the matter, but I really cannot at this stage proceed beyond it. We shall naturally be in close contact through the Bank of England with the joint stock banks, and there will be consultation as to the view the Government should take in this matter. Our view as to priorities will be communicated and discussed in a friendly way and perhaps with the help of suggestions from the Bank of England. We shall consult with all those concerned. I mentioned the two new finance corporations, operated with money largely put up by the banks. They will be most potent agencies in this scheme. We shall consult with the banks and we shall proceed on a programme which will put first things first. It may certainly be, for instance, that we shall do something for hosiery in the near future, because the industry does want putting on its feet. If there is any uncertainty in any industry, then I say that they should get on with their schemes with as little delay as possible and they will find a sympathetic hearing from the bodies which we propose to set up. There is no excuse for an industry not drawing up its plans to re-equip and modernise itself.
There is no disagreement with regard to this capital issue control, but I am bound to impress upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer the great importance to him and to all of us of having the bones of the project put before us, instead of this vague phrase in the Gracious Speech, which may have the effect of doing any amount of harm. If a Question is put down to-night—I think the right hon. Gentleman ought to weigh his words and choose them carefully—could he make a short statement or, even in answer to a Written Question, could he make a statement on Thursday before we separate? Could he clarify the main outline? If he would be willing to do so, I or one of my right hon. Friends would put a Question on the Paper.
I wish now to make some observations on interest rates both from the point of view of the Budget and because the lower the debt charge the better from the point of view of industry and. of the housing programme. We must in the years that lie ahead borrow as cheaply as we can. The Government intend to continue the money policy which has been pursued for some time, and I am now exploring with my advisers both at the Treasury and the Bank of England the future possibilities in the field of cheap money and low interest rates. We must see whether we cannot give even further assistance to industry and other borrowers, including local authorities for housing, by cheapening still further the cost of great capital operations. We are actually pursuing that, and this is a matter which has, of course, great importance for our industrial efficiency in general and our export trade in particular, and for the standard of life of our people.
Meanwhile, the stage is set for the next great savings drive. Plans for this were made before the Election arid we have taken them over. We shall do our best to make them succeed in full measure. There is to be a special Thanksgiving Campaign, due to be launched on 15th September. Immediately on taking office, I sent a message to Sir Harold Mackintosh, the Chairman of the National Savings Committee, to foe transmitted to the local Savings Committees, in which I emphasised the great responsibility which lies upon individual citizens in connection with this campaign. Now I have said, in reply to a Question to-day, and I repeat it now, being sure that the House will be in agreement with it, that it is not very much use for anybody to dish out additional purchasing power unless there is an increase in the supply of goods coming forward for purchasing. Otherwise the whole thing is frustration. In the transition period supplies are necessarily short as a result of the war effort until we can get our industry revolving again for peace time purposes. It is, therefore, most valuable that a large part of the income of the country should go into savings rather than seek an outlet in current expenditure against scarce supplies of goods. I said in my letter to Sir Harold Mackintosh that, as all the world knows, there is no safer form of invest- ment than British Government securities, and this proposition is independent of the verdict of the last Election.
The Leader of the Opposition has just left the House, but I would like to quote again the statement that he made last week. He said:
It may be helpful for me to express the opinion, as Leader of the Opposition, that…British credit will be resolutely upheld.—[Official Report, 16th August, 1945; Vol. 413. c. 94.]
I was very glad to hear him express the opinion, and I need hardly say that I fully share it, that Britain's credit is a national and not a party interest. I trust that party differences will not develop which will have the tendency to lower British credit by uncalculated or undiplomatic suggestion.
So far as inflation is concerned, we must so order our affairs that we must not run into inflation, which destroys the value of our money, nor, on the other hand, run into deflation which destroys employment and checks production. We must pursue between those two excesses a steady course in which the value of our money and the employment of our people are steadily maintained. Sir, I would say this, that if we are to avoid inflation we must rigorously maintain price control, particularly of the necessaries of life, and there are excellent agencies both at the Board of Trade, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, and at the Ministry of Food which enable us to exercise a most effective check upon profiteering. In my opinion, having seen it working at close quarters, price control is one of the administrative successes of the war. It is essential that it should be maintained. Any ill-considered de-control of prices would be the surest road to inflation in the conditions of scarcity which cannot be wholly alleviated for some considerable time to come. Therefore, no heed must be taken to those organs of the Press and to isolated voices in this House which may clamour for the sweeping away of controls. Towards those controls we must adopt a truly "Conservative" approach. We must not favour hasty and ill-considered action in regard to those instruments which, in past years, have served us so well. That is my approach to this problem of controls.
I read rumours in the Press of an Autumn Budget and perhaps I may say a word on that, though not in detail. There has been a tremendous transformation of scene, both outside because the war has come to an end and in this House because of the Election, since my predecessor at the Treasury announced his intention of bringing in an Autumn Budget. That was his intention had he remained in office, and it is also my intention. I think it is indispensable, taking account of all the tremendous changes that have occurred in the last few months and weeks, that we should reconsider the whole field covered by the Budget, both on the Expenditure and on the Revenue sides. It is therefore my intention to submit a Supplementary Budget in the Autumn. I am sure I shall not be expected in advance of the proposals which I shall make to the House to say more to-day, except perhaps to utter a warning to the public against harbouring extravagant expectations of tax relief. I will not go further than that to-day. There are certain very grave financial problems which we shall have to consider in the Autumn and the years ahead. The financial path is not going to be at all easy. Indeed, it is going for some years to be hard and stony, but I am sure that we may have confidence in the ultimate outcome and in general willingness to face all awkward situations as we pass along. I am confident that this House is going to give support to the Government in approaching financial problems in a cold and realistic spirit. But that spirit will be backed by an idealistic purpose to do our best to achieve all those things by way of raising the standard of life and the adjustment of income to need, all those large objects which we have in view. We shall not expect to find Utopia ready baked for the next meal; but there is no reason for not proceeding as rapidly as we can.
I have the very greatest confidence that this House will support the Government in that policy and perhaps I might be allowed in conclusion to make a general observation. Never, since the great Parliament of 1906, has there been so great an influx into this House, after an Election, of new men and women inspired by new ideas and new programmes. Youth has come in at this Election on a flood tide. I am glad that the average age of this House has sustained a most healthy diminution. Ministerialists are slightly younger than the Opposition, and that too is a change. I am five years younger than my predecessor, and other cases could be cited. The House is much younger and a good deal better and already, in these first days of Debate, maiden speeches have revealed that many new and striking personalities have come to Westminster, with high promise for the future.
This Parliament, I hope and believe, is going to write a great page in British history. It is going to do big things both for our own people in domestic legislation, and for the world outside by its energy and by the example it sets. I find the outlook exceedingly encouraging, even at a moment when many of us might be inclined to be daunted by the magnitude of the tasks that confront us in our Departments—I not least at the Exchequer. But I believe that, in the years to come, this 1945 Parliamentary vintage will long be renowned in the annals of British Parliaments.
I have covered in broad general outline a number of topics this afternoon and I will answer the questions which will be put down by the Opposition. When the Autumn comes we shall be able to debate in much greater detail the various approaches which I have outlined to-day and which are mentioned in the Gracious Speech.
The right hon. Gentleman said he could not take off controls because of scarcity. Would he avoid looking at the matter from the doctrinaire point of view, and recognise that the existence of controls can be a cause of scarcity, and that unless he removes those controls there is a vicious circle; he will never cure scarcity unless controls are taken off?
On this first occasion when I have sought to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, I share in very full measure the deference, and sense of respect to this House, which have been so well expressed by hon. Members who have preceded me in making their initial contributions to the affairs of this great Assembly. Yesterday we spoke of the situation in Europe, the Middle East, the Far East and many countries, and of the relation Britain has with other countries. It is right and proper that we should do so, and I know that this House will long maintain the esteem of free men everywhere when they know that it keeps a watchful eye on the interests of democracy all over the world.
I want to refer to-day to the interests of a country within our borders, when we are discussing the industrial and economic conditions of the peace and when we are embarking, as I trust we are, on the re-planning and reconstruction of the economic affairs of this island. I want to refer to the special position of my native land, Wales. The subject of industrial planning is of no more vital interest to any part of this island than to Wales. We look back on the gloom of the inter-war years, when the average of unemployment was so much higher in Wales than in Britain as a whole—sometimes twice as high. The depression was not, as is commonly assumed, confined to the industrial districts of the South but was prevalent in the North Wales counties as well, and unemployment reached 36 per cent. in some areas. In the period of 12 years before 1939 there were 23,000 and more men and women who were forced to migrate to England in search of work from North Wales alone.
We do not want that period to return and I welcome the specific mention in the Gracious Speech of the special problems of Wales and the explicit assurance that they will have the attention of Ministers. I hope the Government will consider the special problems of Wales promptly and announce their policy promptly. I hope that policy will fully accept certain self-evident postulates. In the first place I beg the Government to have regard to the interests of Wales as a whole and not merely particular areas of it. In the second place, the logical inference of the language of the Gracious Speech is such that we are right in demanding—we are invited to demand—complete equality of treatment with Scotland at all times and in all measures. I make no reflection on our Scottish friends in suggesting that. By the same logic, it implies the early creation of a Secretary of State for Wales. I know that during the Election the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House passed some criticisms on this proposal, but no doubt they were rather in the nature of controversial election exuberances than the considered view of the Government. I was fortified when the hon. Member for Central Cardiff (Mr. G. Thomas) said on Friday that there was unanimity on this side of the House in supporting this Measure.
Last among the essentials I have mentioned is that the Government will in all Measures treat Wales as a distinct nation and not merely as a territorial portion of these islands, and that they will assure to us the greatest freedom in developing its resources ourselves. We are a country of immense potential development, and I ask that, as an effective measure of decentralisation, the Government will consider the creation of a Welsh National Development Board as part of the plan to develop to the fullest extent the human and material resources of this country mentioned in the Gracious Speech.
The condition of Wales may be exemplified in the division which I now have the honour to represent, the county of Merioneth, which is a county of stock farming lands, holiday coastal towns and the great industrial district of Festiniog, where slates are hewn out of the rock by workmen, than whom there are no finer in skill and the daily courage they show. The hon. Member for Central Cardiff referred to the dread disease of silicosis as affecting coal miners. It affects no less gravely those engaged in the quarrying of slate, and for that reason I welcome the reference to the schemes for compensation for industrial injuries, social insurance and national health insurance set out in the Gracious Speech. I hope that there will be a truly comprehensive scheme which will alleviate the terrors of this affliction, because it is the first condition of the maintenance of any industry that it should not prejudice in any manner the health or happiness of those engaged in it. We also need light industries to provide alternative employment in those areas, as has been done in South Wales.
I thank the House for this traditional display of its kindness towards a new Member in dealing with a rather particular aspect of policy. I make no apology for referring to my native land in my maiden speech. I would not wish it otherwise. We Welsh are proud to belong to Britain, never more so than at this hour, but we have our traditional way of life—cultured, neighbourly, democratic and God-fearing—and we are anxious and determined to see it preserved and promoted. We not only want to see the wild grandeur of our mountain lands and the unsurpassed beauty of our coasts protected against the ravages of both the private speculator and the lack of imagination of Government Departments; we want that sympathetic, economic approach and treatment which are necessary if the life of the Principality is to develop fully and freely. We ask for concrete measures from the Government. We are far from satisfied with either the attitude or the organs of the British Government in the period before the war. Therefore, we ask for these modest, proper and wholly reasonable measures—a Secretary of State and a National Development Authority—to bring us our due share of the blessings of peace and prosperity without harm or hindrance to any other part of this realm.
It falls to me for the first time in my Parliamentary career to congratulate a Member on his maiden speech, and I can do it with the greatest sincerity. The hon. and gallant Member enumerated a number of the virtues of Welshmen, but one of their virtues which the hon. and gallant Member was too modest to mention was that of eloquence, which he certainly possesses in good measure, even for a Welshman. I know his country pretty well. It is one of the most awful examples of uncontrolled private enterprise, and while I do not necessarily subscribe to all the remedies he desires, I desire remedies for it as earnestly as he does.
I want to speak, in the main, about another aspect of industry, namely, the interests of the men and women who work in it. The Government have not been in office more than three or four weeks, and nobody will expect them to produce sensational schemes at a moment's notice. The Minister of Labour will have to face the particular difficulty that the turnover from war to peace on a large scale in industry, affecting millions of men and women, will be much complicated by the fact that the collapse of Japan has come quicker than I imagine his Ministry was expecting. So he faces a considerable turnover sooner and more rapid than he expected, and nobody will snipe or cavil if there is some intermittent unemployment.
There are two things that call for consideration on that point, and we do hot want to be full of equanimity about either. The workers who are discharged will suffer through no fault of their own; they will suffer indeed from their own virtue in having brought the war to an end more quickly by their hard work. It is essential that they should not suffer. When it comes to dealing with unemployment, I hope it will be realised that it is wholly exceptional unemployment and that the principle will be adopted that unemployment pay should be closely related to earnings, and not merely a miserly flat rate that is supposed to maintain life. I should not like to try living on it. The second point which may lead to a great deal of hardship is the inevitable sag in earnings in passing over to peace-time production, not merely because overtime will cease, but because many peace-time industries on which we built up the wealth of hon. Members opposite—who, at the moment, are represented by three persons who may not themselves be wealthy—have been very largely poorly paid. The textile trade is an outstanding example of this. I want to see the Government, as soon as they can, make up their minds to have a real wage policy which will cover these two points as well as others, and will form an important part of the up building of the standards of living for which nearly 400 of us have been sent here to fight.
That brings one naturally to consider the story which is put up by reactionaries under two closely related heads. The first is that we cannot afford it, we cannot find the money. I do not think that anybody is ever going to accept that particular variant of the story again after it has been shown, during the war, what we can afford. But there is a more elaborate and more subtle way of putting it. We are told that we are poor because of the destruction of war, that we have to build up our export trade, and that the only way to build up the export trade is to pay the workers too little to live on. I have been waiting to see whether that particular bogy would be brought out for our inspection, and, sure enough, it came out in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton). It is a typical capitalist excuse—jam to-morrow, but never jam to-day. In the American language, if I may be allowed to use it without offending the Americans, "There will be pie in the sky when you die." More eloquently, in the early days of Toryism, it was, "Man never is, but always to be, blessed." I do not think that either the country or the Labour Party is in the mood to accept anything of that sort.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aldershot said that we were poor and must cut our standard of living. I think that that means the standard of living for the workers. He never pondered over the suggestion that we might recover, indeed get a better position in the world than our old one, by making industry more efficient. He does not even take this much from the United States, which has built up its export trade by paying much higher wages and having its industries so efficiently organised that they can get a great deal from the workers for the money. United States industry does not pay high wages out of Sunday-school idealism, but because that is the way in which it can get the products to sell cheaply. The right hon. Gentleman went on to an extraordinary argument. We must, he said, be careful of what we say to the United States. This is a new doctrine of appeasement. There is no Germany left for him to appease, and he has to find somebody else to appease—the United States. Be careful what you say, he says, because they like competitive private capitalism. That is why, I suppose, their vast trusts have been gradually destroying competitive private capitalism for the last 40 years. The right hon. Gentleman does not know that, and he thinks they like private capitalism so much that we must not say a word against them.
It must have been very wrong of us to win this Election in these circumstances, and some of the things said in favour of Socialism in our election addresses ought to have been taken up by the American Ambassador. Did you ever hear such nonsense from a responsible politician? What would the United States think of us if we decided to abandon the advocacy of Socialism in and for this country because the Americans prefer private enterprise? If we were advocating the imposition of Socialism in the United States by force, I could understand it; but we are not doing that. I should have thought the Americans were robust enough to listen to a little criticism. I do not know whether they would resent our pointing out that under the infinite blessings of private competitive capitalism they had between 10,000,000 and 12,000,000 unemployed in the middle thirties. At any rate it will be a warning to us. I did chuckle for a moment at the doctrine that you must never say anything that would be disliked in any country because you may want its help. What is the position of the right hon. Gentleman and his friends on the opposite Benches, who are not there at the moment, with regard to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics? They have criticised them mildly here and there; were they quite sure at the time that they would never want their help? And when they discovered that they wanted such help very much, they did not even then always stop criticising.
Another thing the right hon. Gentleman said was that we must leave our export trade, and indeed our trade generally, to the people who knew all about it because they have been in it all their lives. That is a very old argument which used to be specious, but is not even that now. We have seen the result of leaving trade to the undisputed development of people who have been in it all their lives. Roughly speaking, when the last Parliament began its duties, the trade of this country could be divided into two classes—those that were kept going by Government subsidies and those that were not kept going at all. I should have thought that the one recommendation for a person's removal from running a trade would be that he had been in that trade all his life, because that trade was always in an appalling state of inefficiency. But that is what he said.
Then he passed to finance and the control of investment. There he showed a greater depth of knowledge than the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, who told us one day last week that he had never heard of the control of investment and did not know what it meant. He could not have been serious, but that is what he said. The right hon. Member for Aldershot had heard of it, and knew roughly the lines on which it worked. He talked as if it had never been tried, but of course it has been in operation in this country for the last six years. When people opposite began to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer questions about it, I admired his patience; I am afraid that if I had been in his position I should have told them to go and buy a sixpenny primer on the subject. There are lots of them; some of them may even have been written by Professor Laski. But that matter will be dealt with, and they will get their sixpenny pamphlet free in the answers to questions later in the week.
When he pointed out the urgent necessity of having no control of investment at all, I wondered what he wanted. I have never been a financier, I have never invested any money, but I do know something about these people who want trade left to itself and I know something about the people who invest money, because I have been making my living out of them for 30 years. Would he like to go back to 1929? In 1929, free and uncontrolled investment raged in this country and shares in almost everything except the South Sea Bubble were sold. Within 15 months, 85 per cent. of the money which had been invested had gone down the drain, and 85 per cent. of the companies were in liquidation. Is that what they want? They have not got a single new idea; back to 1939 in some case, back to 1929 in others and, I shrewdly suspect, back to 1829 in other cases still. I almost had to rub my eyes when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aldershot displayed this somewhat elementary knowledge of the situation. Before the war, he ranked as one of the most distinguished figures of great capitalist enterprise in this country, and indeed on the Continent of Europe as well. Yet he comes here, and asks the Chancellor of the Exchequer to tell him what control of investment is.
The plain truth is that the story that we are poor, and have to reduce our standard of living, is just nonsense. The productive capacity of this country, on which in the long run and in the short run our standard of living depends, is higher than it has ever been in our history. I do not for one moment wish to belittle the problems with which the Government is faced, but we now stand at our greatest industrial strength in our history. The hon. and gallant Member for Hornsey (Captain Gammans) said the other day that our prestige had never stood higher. That is true, because the people of this country have carried us through the war and because the Coalition Government's most crucial posts were held by Labour men. It is an interesting comparison. Ask anybody in the streets to-day what was the moment when our prestige stood lowest, and he will say that it was in October and November, 1938, when private enterprise, the Tories and Munich, had it all their own way. The solution, as I said, is to make industries efficient. I remember the time when the story against Socialism was that it was charming, nice, very friendly and pleasant for everybody, but that it was so terribly inefficient. Nobody talks such nonsense now. What about the steel combine, for example, which was deliberately designed and constructed to maintain all the inefficient plants side by side with the efficient ones? Indeed when one man cut loose and built a really efficient plant, they very nearly shot him. All they did was to ruin him instead, which was not a criminal offence and was much cheaper.
I want the Government to have a strong policy on industry, a strong policy in the treatment of workers and a strong policy with regard to finance. We are, as I say, a very strong country. I know that there are two countries even stronger still, and I know we have problems to face; but we are a very strong country indeed, and the problems we shall have to face are nothing to the problems which, at different stages of its history, the Soviet Union has had to tackle. The Soviet Union met and surmounted those problems, and thereby made herself one of the two greatest Powers on earth. We are just as good as they, or better. We have not quite such terrible problems to face; we have great ones, but we can solve them easily and make a real job of our country. We are strong too in the country. We have a lot of Members of Parliament on these benches; most of them are pretty good and some of them are very good. We have got them at a moment scientifically selected by the Tories as the very best moment to perpetuate Toryism in this country. They selected the moment for the Election, and some of them have confessed that——
Does the hon. Gentleman suggest that the Blackpool Conference made the Election a necessity? Why, three quarters of the Tory election literature was printed before the Blackpool Conference. My hon. Friend should know that, although he suffers from the same disability as I do; he is not a Member of the Tory Party.
I beg the hon. Member's pardon. It was the moment they selected, believing that if they left it until the autumn they would lose more seats. They selected their mascot, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill), the gentleman whom they had spent years trying to destroy, because he disagreed with them about appeasing Germany. They almost selected the voting register by leaving thousands of people off it. They selected their own bogies, but of course their forger had died, and they could not do as well as they did 20 years ago. Nevertheless they selected half-a-dozen bogies and trotted them out, discovering to their dismay that the electorate was too well educated to be scared of them.
My own difficulty about the party opposite, and one to which I cannot find a solution although I keep asking for it is, what is the name of this party? If I call them Tories they resent it. If I call them Conservatives, it is pointed out that they are really not Conservative but the National Party. If I point out that the nation is represented on the Benches on this side of the House, and I cannot call them that, I am told to use some other name; and so I shall call them Tories. We in the Labour movement—which includes the Labour Party, myself and some other people—went into this Election without any adventitious advantage of any description except Lord Beaverbrook and the "Daily Express." The result—well, we see and know the result, which came from a very thoughtful electorate. They sat very quiet in most constituencies right through the Election, certainly up to the last day or two when anybody is entitled to a bit of fun. As for the story that we trotted out extravagant promises, I can speak for myself and for a few constituencies of which I learnt, and I heard nothing of any extravagant promises. I can speak with an air of detachment about "Let us Face the Future" because I had nothing to do with its composition and am not responsible for it. I have looked at it and I doubt whether there was ever a more moderate document than that. Look at its promises about a vital thing like housing. It went deliberately before the electorate, of which literally almost half were sitting on the doorstep of their mother-in-law's house wondering where they were going to live, and said "Our promises about rehousing are that we will do our best." That was all they told the electorate. It just shows what an honest, moderate statement does, and how an electorate will react to political honesty of that kind.
We have got a good Government; I suppose I am one of the very few people in the House who can say that without being suspected of trying to get a job. We have got a good Government and, what is almost more important, we have got really good relations between the Government and the Labour Party and the trade union movement. The trade union movement is itself more powerful and more awake to modern trends than it has ever been before. The Labour Party does not belong to the trade union movement and the trade union movement does not belong to the Labour Party, but they have worked in harmony and can do so easily in this Parliament. That was not entirely the position in earlier Parliaments and it represents a very great accession of strength indeed. I do not want to kick people when they are down, though that is often the best time to kick them, but I think a great many people have this feeling about the Tory Party and machine. The Tory bubble is pricked; they turn out to be ordinary middle and upper class people with no programme at all. They criticise the details of what our Government are going to do about housing, but what would they have done about housing? Would they have annoyed a single landlord, would they ever have broken a single price ring? The country has made up its mind. This Government have got a tremendous task. It can succeed in it, it will succeed in it, and I think it will be supported by all quarters and all wings of the Labour movement in and out of this House. I think it is the end of Toryism.
There is one other matter about which I want to say a few words. It is an entirely different matter, and it is a matter about which I, in my peculiar position, can perhaps speak with freedom without it being thought that I am trying to look after my own pocket. Members of Parliament should not be privileged above their fellows, but they should be enabled to do their job properly and to work in conditions of reasonable efficiency without having to make Parliament a part-time job, which I am afraid I have to do. I do not want to see a demand for their salaries to be raised, although I do not quite see how a Member of Parliament can really do his job of looking after his constituency, have a home in the country and maintain himself in London on £600 a year, even with the greatest modesty and carefulness. What I do want to say, and I am sure it will be considered, is that I want to see them helped in other vital ways.
I want them to be given secretarial assistance as a Civil Service matter, so that they can get on with their work. I do not know whether my position is in any way exceptional. I look after my constituents as will as I can, as do many other hon. Members, but it takes the time of two secretaries devoting at least seven eighths of their time to my constituency and nothing else. I do not understand how any working-class or middle-class Member of Parliament can attend to his constituents if he has to do all the correspondence himself. So I hope that in the near future Members will have secretaries at the public expense. I would like also to see free postage for Members of Parliament. My postage bill amounts to approximately a quarter of my Parliamentary salary. I do not know whether it is as bad in the case of other hon. Members, or whether I am more loquacious with the pen.
There is one other matter to which I want to refer. Among the things that. Members of Parliament ought to have in order to do their work properly is a Chamber that will hold them. In the last Parliament I was very disturbed—I do not know whether I did my duty by voicing my disturbance—to learn that it was apparently the unanimous decision of the House that the old Chamber should be rebuilt in the old style almost to the last detail. It was a pleasant place and I spent many a happy hour in it——
I hope the hon. and learned Member will forgive me for interrupting him, but as Chairman of the Select Committee, I want to say that he has done great injustice, I am sure inadvertently, to the Select Committee and the late House which accepted the Report. There was no suggestion that the building should be rebuilt in exactly the same way. There is to be far more accommodation for the Press and for strangers and very great improvements are to be made in all sorts of ways in the amenities of the House. The only matter on which the House was unanimous, and the Select Committee reported the opinion, was that there should not foe more room on the Floor of the House. Otherwise, the building will be greatly improved.
I am glad to accept correction from the Noble Lord. He will agree that on the vital point I want to make I am not wrong. I say that the Chamber should be such that it can hold the Members. There will not often be occasions when all Members will attend, but there ought to be a Chamber that will hold substantially all of them. Personally, I think the idea of maintaining the Chamber in substantially the old form was part of the general set-up. It was an attempt to preserve the reactionary conditions and the reactionary atmosphere, which is a very insidious atmosphere. There is not much time to lose in regard to this matter, and I hate to suggest another job to the Government when they have so many, but this is a matter which ought to be dealt with quickly before any re-building goes far. This is a new Parliament. This is a new era and a new tradition. The people of this country are moving in to govern their country, and they should govern it in a building of new traditions and not in a building of old traditions. I hope the Government will see to it that we have a Chamber that is up to date, in which Members can attend and get on with their work.
I ask the indulgence of the House as a new Member on this alarming occasion, none the less alarming because of the somewhat thin Benches opposite. As a new Member, I think the most surprising thing about the Debate has been the extraordinarily mild and even friendly treatment accorded by hon. Members opposite to the proposals contained in the Gracious Speech. It is true that to-day the right hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton) asked some questions a trifle aggressively, but there was very little criticism of anything specific in the programme. Yet here we
have a programme containing no less than 12 major Measures taken, as far as I am concerned, to a very large extent from my election address. One would suppose that hon. Members opposite would have been able to find some point of criticism. We all know that some of these Measures are quite non-controversial because they were agreed upon by the Coalition Government. But even on a thing like the nationalisation of the coal industry, which is to be treated quite differently now than it was two months ago, what did the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) say? He said:
If that is really the best way of securing a larger supply of coal at a cheaper price and at an earlier moment than is now in view, I for one should approach the plan in a sympathetic spirit."—[Official Report, 16th August, 1945; Vol. 413, c. 93.]
One might suppose that this was a new sort of gadget, a domestic appliance, which the right hon. Gentleman was going to view, to watch its performance, and then consider whether to buy it or not. The fact is that the nationalisation of coal mines has been at the very forefront of political discussion for the past 20 years. The right hon. Gentleman is a man of quick decision, but in this matter he is still waiting to make up his mind.
When we come to the Bank of England the same astonishing change occurs. There is no difference of principle. I thought the right hon. Member for Aldershot differed slightly from the Leader of the Opposition in this matter, but still we are told there is no difference of principle. Certainly, that is a very different story from what we were hearing a few weeks ago in a memorable broadcast in which all kinds of things were threatened. But if there has been a change I think that hon. Members on this side should congratulate hon. Members opposite upon making it. How wise they were not to oppose the public ownership of the Bank of England! The Chancellor of the Exchequer would have had very little difficulty in disposing of them, because the case for this Measure is, of course, an overwhelming one. Here we have a private corporation; the shareholders, even if they are not very active, do elect the Court of the Bank and therefore they have power over the officers of the Bank; they may not exercise it very frequently, but nevertheless the power exists. There is this private corporation with immense powers of life or death over our economic system. Is it surprising that the Dominions long before us have set an example in this matter? There is not a single great Dominion where some degree of public control does not exist over the central bank. We are lagging behind and I am very pleased indeed that the Government are bringing the Mother Country up to the level set by the Dominions.
There is one rather strange argument put forward on this matter. We are told—and to a certain extent the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aldershot seemed to agree with it—thatthis is not necessary and that really the public control of the Bank already exists. We are even told that such a Measure would be a waste of Government time. I am sure hon. Members on this side welcome the solicitude which hon. Members opposite display with regard to the matter of Government time. We hope they will be equally solicitous when it comes to the Bills. It is true that during the war years and even some years before the war—it is a matter of some dispute as to when it began, but I would say 1933—the Treasury has come increasingly to dominate the Bank and the Bank has increasingly come voluntarily to subject itself to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. But this is a gentleman's agreement, and when all is said and done, although evidently the present Governor of the Bank regards the Chancellor as a gentleman, we cannot assume that future Governors will regard future Chancellors even on the opposite side of the House as gentlemen. Therefore, I think the reason the Government have put this Bill into the programme is sufficiently clear. In concluding my remarks on this subject, I would like to read to the House some words used by the late Lord Oxford in a speech—I believe the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) may have been present on that occasion—at the beginning of the constitutional struggle with another place. He said:
It is plainly intolerable that a Second Chamber should, while one party in the State is in power, be its willing servant and when that party has received unmistakable and emphatic condemnation by the country be able to neutralise and thwart and distort the policy which the electors have shown they approved.
Hon. Members on this side feel that situation might have developed in the case of
the Bank of England, and we are very glad that the Government are taking no chances whatever in the matter.
I turn now to the question of the control of investment. The surprising thing to me about the discussion of that somewhat technical subject is that the right hon Member for Woodford and the right hon. Member for Aldershot did not make any reference to a document for which they, as well as others, were responsible, in which this subject is treated in great detail, namely, the White Paper on Full Employment. I think that now those two right hon. Gentlemen have the time and leisure which the country has given them they should really look into these matters, because that document, although I would not for one moment subscribe to every word of it, nevertheless marks a very great advance. When one considers the number of Conservative Ministers in the Administration which produced it, one can only congratulate the Labour Members of the Coalition Government on the remarkable educational work they did. The White Paper makes perfectly plain that among the causes of unemployment the two most powerful are irregularities in capital expenditure and variations in our foreign balances. As regards capital expenditure, the White Paper goes on to examine the various ways in which these fluctuations might be eliminated, and suggestions are made, for example, for a greater degree of control in the timing of investment by local authorities. I must say there is not very much about control of private firms' capital expenditure, but suggestions are made that this might be looked into.
I have only two general comments to make on this matter. As I see it, the national investment board, or whatever body may be set up, must have these functions. First, it should obtain the fullest possible information about the prospective level of capital expenditure in the country. It can get all that information from Government agencies, and it should have very little difficulty in getting the information from the larger private firms who, one hopes, will co-operate with the board in this matter. Secondly, it must contrast that prospective level of capital expenditure with the level which is considered desirable in order to maintain full employment without inflation; and then, I suggest, it must recommend to the Government any measures which may be necessary for closing the gap between those two amounts. As the Chancellor has made plain, it will take over the functions of the Capital Issues Committee. I hope the Government will also consider giving it substantial powers, against the day when depression may set in, for stimulating investment, as well as the restrictive power which exists to-day. It is not for me to attempt to answer the questions which the right hon. Member for Aldershot put on this matter, technical questions about the way the joint stock banks shall be allowed to operate, and so on, but for my part I would say that it would be a very difficult matter for this board to attempt to control expenditure by private firms out of their own resources.
This brings me to the next point I want to make. You cannot rely on a national investment board alone in this matter of investment fluctuation. You must introduce other measures as well. Some of them are discussed in the White Paper to which I have referred. But it is, nevertheless, a necessary instrument. It springs straight out of the White Paper, and I would have hoped that it would have received a warmer welcome from the benches opposite.
There are one or two things that I wish to say on the commercial questions which have been discussed to-day and particularly on the question of exports and industrial efficiency. Hon. Members opposite seem to have the idea that on this side of the House we are not sufficiently concerned with the export trade. I can assure them that this is not the case. We are fully aware of the need for a great expansion of our export trade. There is no disagreement that the present position was unavoidable and due to the war and I do not think we have even got to the stage of disagreeing about what methods should now be adopted. I myself would like to link the question of exports with that of industrial efficiency. I do not think that they can be separated. Although for the next year or two I think it likely that, as long as we do not allow goods to be diverted in too large quantities to a profitable home market, we shall be able to get our exports up, the question whether we can retain those powers will depend on the efficiency of our industries.
In that connection I have two suggestions to put to my right hon. and learned Friend the President of the Board of Trade. I, like many other Members, read with great interest the Reid Report on Coal. It was one of the best reports of that kind I have ever seen. It simply setout in bold terms the causes of our technical inefficiency as compared with other countries and what should be done to put it right. Something of the same thing has been done in the Platt Report on Cotton. I suggest that my right hon. and learned Friend might consider setting up similar committees to deal with some of our other industries, though he should not necessarily choose the ones which are less profitable. It very often happens that an industry which is highly profitable may also be highly inefficient.
He might begin with two industries. I do not single them out for any particular reason except that they would bear investigation, but he might start with an investigation into the motor car industry, where the level of our costs in relation to American costs is extremely high, and he might for the same reason look into the radio industry. He has had considerable experience of both industries as Minister of Aircraft Production and knows already a good deal about them. But it would be no use in my view, in an inquiry of this kind—which should be a thorough and frank objective statement with recommendations—going through the ordinary trade associations. I have had a good deal to do with trade associations in the last few years and our relations have been excellent. They have served a very useful purpose in acting as a channel between Government and industry. But for this particular purpose, I do not think that they are the right bodies. You have to choose technical experts and get them to put down freely and frankly exactly what they think.
The second suggestion I have to make may be a little more controversial. I have a feeling from such experience as I have had in the past few years that there are too many industrialists and manufacturers; perhaps one might spread it more widely and say there is generally in industry to-day a lack of enterprise. I think there are too many manufacturers who, instead of saying, "How are we going to break into that market overseas or how are we going to get our technical costs down?" say to themselves and to the Government, "How can we just hold on to the bit of the home market we have got and how can we keep newcomers out?" That spirit is deplorable. It is not going to be at all easy to eradicate it. I have one suggestion to make. I appreciate that in the Gracious Speech not everything can be included, but I hope my right hon. and learned Friend is not going to drop the question of the control of monopolies and restrictive practices. I believe, quite apart from the effect of the actual legislative measures themselves, their psychological effect will be very great. I believe that if you are going to have private enterprise it is better to have it competitive, and the time has come when we have got to have anti-monopoly legislation of that kind. The party opposite have subscribed in some degree to this point. If my right hon. and learned Friend cannot say anything about legislation, I hope he may make a statement of the Government's views on the subject before long. It would be very encouraging to the many individuals and firms in the country who do not like these restrictive practices and are opposed very often to the policy of their trade associations, but generally are too frightened to do anything about it.
I have spent the last six years in the Civil Service, and I want to say one word about that body. It is the butt of every cheap caricaturist and it cannot reply. From my own experience—one has only known a small number of civil servant—I have found them possessed of, at any rate, three remarkable qualities: First, complete integrity; secondly, a capacity for unlimited hard work—as I know from my own experience of the many breakdowns from overwork—and thirdly, a very high degree of intelligence. We often say that in this country the war has been better run this time than last; we praise the mobilisation of man-power, the rationing scheme and price control. We should not forget that much of the credit for all this must go to the Civil Service. But I warn the Government to-day that these men and women are tired. They have had a very tough time. They have been working, as everybody has, during the blitz and they need reinforcements. I hope that the Government will, as soon as possible, bring reinforcements into the Civil Service from the younger generation.
The last thing to be said on the Civil Service is this. In the Labour Party programme, to which reference has already been made this afternoon, there is an excellent phrase about making the Civil Service a spur to the efficiency of industry rather than tying it up with red tape. Nothing would please the Civil Service more than that. But we shall need to make changes here. The present staff is not altogether adequate, and the Government should, I suggest, as soon as possible, set up a committee to look into the whole question of an economic and industrial Civil Service.
Lastly, there is just this to be said. The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) in his speech on Thursday compared the situation in this House to-day with the position in 1906, and he said, speaking of the Liberals, his party:
They came here in full hope, but unfortunately at that time all they desired to do was being frustrated because the Tories maintained power through another place. Today, fortunately, the power of that other place has been cut down and the road of this Government towards progress is clear."—[Official Report, 16th August,.1945; Vol. 413, c. 117.]
It is true that through the Parliament Act the power of another place has been cut down, but it is still very great. It is sufficient to obstruct for two or three years legislation of which this House approves. I know that I am on delicate ground and that it is certainly not for a new Member to make pronouncements or throw down challenges on this subject, but I appeal to hon. Members opposite and particularly to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford, whose eloquence last Thursday on the subject of democracy was appreciated by many Members on this side of the House. I would ask him to use his influence with his friends in another place to see that there is no obstruction of that kind so that this country may live up to the famous words he quoted on that occasion:
Government of the people by the people, for the people."—[Official Report, 16th August, 1945; Vol. 413, c. 85.]
In 1929 the electors of the Sedgefield Division of Durham made the deplorable mistake of voting more freely for my opponent than for myself, but, except for the two years which followed the election of that year, I have sat continuously in this House for a period which is now considerable. It is, however, so long since I had the honour of catching your eye, Mr. Speaker, that I feel inclined to crave that indulgence which is usually extended to Members who address this House for the first time. My task is not made any easier by reason of the high level of eloquence which has been maintained by those hon. Members who have addressed this House for the first time during the last two or three days. I add my congratulations to all those hon. Members. But we have just listened to a speech which has been outstanding, even when regarded from that high standard. The hon. Gentleman and I know one reason why I am particularly happy that my speech should follow his and that I should be the one who on this occasion congratulates him on his maiden effort. This old Mother of Parliaments has received a very generous transfusion of new blood and I feel confident that the new vigour which she has acquired thereby will enable her to deal with courage and, I hope, with efficiency with the many grievous problems which will face the Government. Certainly we on these benches will doour best to assist the Government by constructive criticism, which is an essential part of the procedure of this House.
I would like to congratulate the Prime Minister on the speech which he made last Thursday. We listened, if not with amusement, at least with sympathy while the right hon. Gentleman made his first attempt to damp down the ardour which has been so freely engendered in the breasts of hon. Gentlemen opposite, both by their own speeches during the last few weeks and by the speeches of their leaders. We have thought for some years that the Labour Party have been airborne. Their heads, if I may say so with respect, have been in the clouds, but on Thursday they were compelled to make their first jump, and soon they will reach the ground. We will try to see that they have in truth a happy landing. We are fearful, however, that there may be some bruises or some broken bones, and I venture to suggest that when they have picked themselves up and rubbed their bruises, some of them will be found sniping at the pilot who so gaily promised to fly them to a happier land but who has now taken the first opportunity to push them overboard while flying over a country which is full of stones and of deep waters.
There was indeed much truth in many of the words of the Prime Minister, and I hope that hon. Members opposite will have taken careful note of what he said. I hope also that his words have been noted by the whole country. We are indeed faced as a nation with a difficult economic situation. It is essential that we should greatly increase our export trade. We must import and, if our imports are to return to the 1938 level, then the value of those imports, allowing for the increased cost of production, the increase in world prices, allowing also for greatly increased agricultural production in this country, will have to be in the order of £1,500,000,000. To pay for those imports we shall have to export goods to a value of only about £300,000,000 less, or a total of £1,200,000,000. These are the facts to which the Prime Minister and other speakers have drawn the attention of this House and the country during the last few days. The Prime Minister went further and warned us of the danger of pockets of unemployment developing in the industrial areas of these islands. It is because I agree entirely with what the Prime Minister said, because I sympathise with the warning which he gave, because I am fearful for the future, that I, for one, have noted with regret the confirmation of the proposal to nationalise the coalmines of this country. I deplore even more the disturbing uncertainty which must act like a brake on trades and industries, not so much by reason of the advent of a Labour Administration, not because of anything which was said in the King's Speech, but because of what has remained unsaid, either in the Gracious Speech or on any other occasion, including this afternoon, by those who have attempted to speak for His Majesty's Government.
This is not the occasion to discuss at length the history or future of the mining industry, but I would like to say that after representing constituencies for over 20 years which have been largely or predominantly mining in character, I have become convinced that for the sake of political aims—political ideals if you like—there has been a determination among those who claim to lead the miners that the mining industry must not be allowed to succeed under a system of private enterprise.
May I put this to the hon. and gallant Gentleman? What miners' leaders have ever said that the miners must not produce more coal? We are on the job all the time and the hon. and gallant Gentleman's constituency is not mainly mining. I tell him this, that he will never come back to this House any more. I know.
There has been reduced output—[Hon. Members: "Why?"] There has been increased cost of production. There has been uncertainty, and all these and other considerations have led to conditions which have been entirely prejudicial to efficiency or to those schemes of modernisation or expansion, or the application of new capital to the industry which no one on these benches would dispute is necessary in so many cases.
I have heard very frequently Members of the Labour Party and, in the previous Parliament, hon. Gentlemen opposite, using with gusto the word "exploitation." In my view there has never been a better example of exploitation than the exploitation of the mining industry by the Labour Party, with apparently no consideration whatsoever for the welfare of the miner—[Hon. Members: "Oh"]—who now, as it was planned that he should, is clutching at the straw of nationalisation in the hope that it may bring salvation to him and his industry.
But there has been another factor which has contributed to the uncertainty in the mining industry and which has discouraged it. That is the threat of nationalisa- tion which has hung like a dark cloud over the industry for so many years. The hon. Gentleman who preceded me mentioned, I think, that it had been part of the programme of the Labour Party for 20 years. Indeed it has. It has been part of their programme for considerably longer. It is some time since the Liberal Party contracted that wasting disease from which it is suffering and which is now bringing its life so rapidly to an end. For a quarter of a century the Labour Party has been His Majesty's Opposition, or has on two occasions formed the Government of this country. It has been obvious that sooner or later the Labour Party would come into office with full power.
May I ask the hon. and gallant Gentleman if it is not a fact that the late Leader of his party, Mr. Bonar Law, gave a very distinct and definite pledge that the Sankey Commission Report, which was in favour of nationalisation, would be honourably implemented by him in this House?
The statement of the hon. Gentleman is entirely incorrect. [Hon. Members: "Oh."] What I am trying to point out—even if the hon. Gentleman were accurate and I do not think he is—is that there has been uncertainty hanging over the mining industry, that for 25 years the industry has been managed—[Hon. Members: "Mismanaged"]—Hon. Members are entitled to hold that view—but it has been faced with the threat of nationalisation in the near or distant future, and that has undoubtedly caused conditions which have discouraged enterprise and capital expenditure, and even the entry into the industry of those able young men who could have done so much to bring new life and prosperity to this sorely tried industry. However, with regard to the mines the decision is taken. This uncertainty, which I believe to have been created by hon. Gentlemen opposite, has been resolved by them, and we now know for certain that the mining industry will be nationalised within the next few months. But what about the other industries and undertakings of this country? Here is a short list. What about water, electricity and gas? Are they to be nationalised? What about the railways and iron and steel? Are they to be nationalised? [An Hon. Member: "They should be."] The joint stock banks, heavy and light engineering—are they to be nationalised? Aviation, and industries connected with the building of aeroplanes, motor cars, shipping and shipbuilding, chemicals, textiles, plastics? Those industries and a host of others do not plan for a day or for a week or for a month but for years.
They must first, in conditions of confidence, attract investment. Their capital expenditure must be planned. Plans for expansion or modernisation or of new ventures take time to mature, and during a period of 10, 20 or more years, capital, managerial skill, and labour itself demand and require a just reward. Yes, I repeat, a just reward actuated by the profit motive, so often decried by hon. Gentlemen opposite. Is it wrong to make a profit out of the mines? Hon. Gentlemen opposite must believe that such is the case. If it is wrong to make a profit out of the mines why is it virtuous to make a profit out of cotton? If it is not virtuous to make a profit out of cotton, why has the President of the Board of Trade told us that that industry will not be nationalised? And houses—is it wrong to make a profit out of houses? I suggest that it will not be long before the Minister of Health is on his knees before the building trades of this country imploring their assistance to solve the housing problem of the country. It is perfectly true, as has already been said this afternoon, that it is the men who were brought up in the industry, who have spent their lives in it—the housing industry no less than any other—who can best assist the Government in solving this dreadful problem. But surely the policy of the Labour Party is the nationalisation of all the means of production, distribution and exchange.
My right hon. Friend who opened the Debate to-day had perfect justice in asking the Chancellor of the Exchequer the questions which he put to him and which, incidentally, he was quite incapable of answering. How long will it be before the building trade is nationalised? How long before the Socialist propagandists begin to talk about unscrupulous profiteering by rapacious capitalists who are denying homes to the women and children of this country? Political prophecy is indeed dangerous, but I suggest that the building trade will not be nationalised until the shortage of houses has been overcome, or until the Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) is Prime Minister of this country. The cotton industry will not be nationalised—or will it—in the end? If not, why not? I hope these questions will be answered later to-day.
What principle of discrimination will there be between one industry and another which shall determine whether it is to be nationalised or not, or is there no principle at all? Is it merely a matter of political expediency? Are the measures of nationalisation outlined in the King's Speech the end of Socialism in our time? [An Hon. Member: "Only the beginning."] We have a right to know. Trade and industry in this country have a right to know. Are there to be further doses of Socialism in due course? [Hon. Members: "Yes."] If more industries are to be nationalised, which are they to be? Can any right hon. Gentleman tell us which industry will be nationalised, or are the Government quite incapable of answering questions relative to a subject which, presumably, they must have considered for years? The Government must answer these questions, and very soon. They must make their position clear. At present, I see every indication of the country entering upon a period of muddle and uncertainty. How different it is in the United States, where the recuperative powers of capitalism are being given a fair chance.
The answers to all the hon. and gallant Gentleman's questions are provided in a document entitled, "Let us Face the Future," of which over 100,000 copies were distributed to the public. I shall be delighted to present him with a copy.
I think the hon. Gentleman had better present a copy to his own Front Bench. It is not for me to answer these questions; I am asking them. I am asking them not only on behalf of my party, but on behalf of many others who will be vitally interested. [An Hon. Member: "The workers?"] Yes, the workers.
I did not intend to be controversial. Indeed, I started by craving the indulgence of the House as one who has not had the honour of addressing it for a long time. But before I sit down, I want, once again, to warn the Government that unless trade, industry and finance get an answer to these questions, and get it soon, they will do irreparable harm at this critical period in our national economy. We are now in the transitional period between a war and a peace footing. The war is over, and those nations with which we shall have to compete are jumping to it. Unless right hon. Gentlemen opposite are very careful indeed we shall not get that increase in our export trade which we want. What we will get are those pockets of unemployment to which the Prime Minister referred. While I wish well of the Government the indications are that if they continue along the lines on which they have started they will do irreparable harm to our trade and industry, and to the very class which they claim, so wrongly, to represent.
I must rely, as my predecessors who have made maiden speeches have relied, on the generosity of the House in addressing it for the first time because I feel that the kindness with which they have been received has lessened, to some extent, my apprehension although, I am afraid, not to any great extent. The hon. and gallant Gentleman has just asked many questions of this side of the House, and although I cannot presume to answer for the Government I would like to tell him that everyone who sits on this side knows that the policy of the Labour Party is not nationalisation for nationalisation's sake. Where it has been possible for there to be Government assistance and direction of industry then the position has been that nationalisation has not been applied, and it will be applied to those other industries where it has not been possible, so far, to do anything to cure them of their evils and correct the unfortunate state in which they are at the moment.
I feel that an undue amount of importance is placed on the question of ownership. In my view, the main and most important questions are labour and materials, because I am absolutely satisfied that we can obtain steel without the British Iron and Steel Federation and I am sure that the problems of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Fuel and Power will not be enhanced if he has not to deal with the coal owners. We are preparing once again to start production in the interests of manufacture for a peace-time economy and there would appear to be a distinct difference in the approach of the present Government to this subject from that of the Government after the last war. On this occasion they are determined to ensure that there will be full employment, which will be one of the most important factors which they will have to consider.
Further, they will not rely solely on the question of handing back, as they did after the last war, controlled industry to private hands, as a result of which, between the two wars, there were approximately 2,000,000 unemployed. Those will be important considerations for the Government for, based upon a constructive plan and a sound policy, we shall achieve those ends. In view of the fact that labour is of such importance to the rehabilitation of our industry, I am sure that Members on both sides of the House will want to see the demobilisation scheme speeded up to the extent that there will be retained in the Armed Forces only a sufficient number consistent with security and our international obligations. In that respect, it is reasonable to suppose that there will be a steady and ever-increasing flow of men and women back from the Armed Forces who will be found, perhaps, after a short period of temporary unemployment, steady employment under good conditions, so that they may make their contribution towards building the better Britain for which they have fought.
I would like to refer to some of the remarks made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R, A. Butler) whose eloquence I cannot presume to emulate, who sought to encourage the Government to expedite the demobilisation plan to such an extent that order and tidiness would be sacrificed. It seemed to me that this was vicarious generosity run riot. I know from my own experience of industry that where it has been essential, during the war, to maintain production so as to ensure that the maximum amount of goods have been obtained, and there has not been enough staff to ensure orderly and tidy conditions, it has become necessary to shut down plant altogether in order to clear up, with the result that no time has been saved in the long run. The Government's policy now is dependent on sound and constructive planning, and I hope my right hon. Friends will not be influenced to sacrifice essential organisation in the interests of what is a temporary amelioration of only one part of the cohesive inter-dependent whole, however important that part may be. I think it is fair to say that in industry to-day there are many grave problems. There is no doubt at all that the necessity for transferring labour from one industry to another quickly is of vital importance to the general and increasing standard of living at which we are aiming. It is in this connection that the prompt action of the President of the Board of Trade in coming to the North of England recently, and taking active steps to meet owners and operatives in the cotton industry, has had a profound effect on the feelings of the North of England towards this new Government. There was a new departure in regard to my right hon. and learned Friend's visit in that as soon as he had held a meeting with the owners and operatives he addressed a public meeting, at which he conveyed to the people who are so vitally interested in cotton precisely how far the negotiations had proceeded. That augers well for the new Government and for its leaders.
If the House will permit me, I think a few words about my own constituency would not be out of place. We, in Bolton, have, for many a long year, been the admiration of the world for our skill and ingenuity, and for the type of cotton goods which we have supplied. Indeed, Bolton is the traditional home of the cotton industry. Sir Richard Ark Wright was a one-time resident, and Crompton was born in Bolton. These two pioneers, who were responsible for a revolution in indus- trial methods, have done much to create what is to-day regarded everywhere as the home of the cotton industry. The importance of joint consultations, of the reform of distributive arrangements in order to secure continuous runs of the provision of double-shift working arrangements and of the machinery for re-equipping the mills, and of the amalgamation of the spinning section have all been factors which have been stressed by the Government as being essential to the efficient conduct of the cotton industry. I can assure hon. Members that this has had a profound effect in the North of England and has shown them quite definitely that His Majesty's Government mean business.
If I may turn to just one other point—I do not want to detain the House too long, and this is an ordeal to me—I would like to say a few words about the industry with which I have been connected throughout the whole of my adult life, and the contribution which it has made to the winning of the war. The rubber industry has had untold difficulties. We know that 90 per cent, of the world's rubber production was lost to the Japanese, and that the raw materials available in this country were not sufficient to carry us through. I think a tribute should be paid to those whose skill and ingenuity in that industry enabled us to provide our Armed Forces with the tyres, dinghies, and other vital commodities made from rubber, without which this war could not have been waged. There is a new position arising out of the new freedom of these areas, and I hope the Government will take great care to ensure that the susceptibilities of the native producers in these areas are taken into account, having regard to the political repercussions which these factors may have in these particular areas. There is of course a Rubber Growers Association which looks after the interests of shareholders of the plantation industries in this country, but I hope His Majesty's Government will represent another form of association which looks after the needs of the native producers. If we can raise the standard of living in these areas, we shall be creating a purchasing power which will have its effect on our exporting markets in this country.
I join with my hon. Friend who spoke earlier in his surprise that some of the propositions previously made by the Labour Party, which are now the con- firmed policy of the Government, should have been accepted in such good spirit by hon. Gentlemen opposite. Indeed, one would feel inclined to say: "I fear the Greeks when they come with gifts in their hands," because I cannot conceive that in the short period during which this Parliament has been in existence there has been that degree of enlightenment. But after all we are only at the dawn of consciousness and thought and all that human wit and wisdom have ever done is but an augury of what they may yet achieve. In those circumstances I am happy to feel that this new departure perhaps indicates an acuter observation, an exacter definition, a more progressive state of mind which has come to the aid of hon. Members opposite, and I can assure them it is no less welcome because it is long overdue.
It is a great pleasure and privilege to follow the recently returned Member for Bolton (Mr. Lewis). We in this House have seen several Members from that great industrial city, and each has played a very earnest and hard-working part in the life of this House. I would like to say, after the earnestness of his remarks, and in view of the knowledge he has shown of what Bolton depends on—cotton—and of the rubber industry, in which he has spent his life, that I feel sure, although we may not agree in political philosphy, we shall value his arguments for the knowledge which he will put before us from time to time in our Debates.
There was an Amendment on the Paper, which was not called, but which has the support of a considerable number of Members on this side of the House. I want to deal with some of those arguments raised by it, because they affect the future industrial prosperity of this country. If I remember rightly, the Amendment said that we should, as soon as possible, remove all unnecessary controls which were not vital in the reconstruction period. There have been differences of views on that, but this House would be a very dull place indeed if every Member were to put forward the same point of view. I therefore ask you to listen to my view of what I believe is best as regards the future of industry in this country, particularly with regard to the vexed question of controls. I do confess that it is ex- tremely difficult to know where the Labour Party stands upon this question of control.
I am glad, Sir, that you have put me right. I would never dream of referring to you in this connection, especially when occupying that honourable Chair. I was referring to where the Labour Party stand on the question of controls. I think it is rather like a tin can tied to a dog's tail. The dog may be a very nice dog, but it does not like the can. I do assure hon. Members opposite that I earnestly believe that there are two sections in their party. There is the section which feels that the powers of the Executive should be increased, and the section that feels diametrically opposed to that view, who concentrate their energies upon social legislation. I venture to give a word of advice, if I may be permitted, to those on the Government Front Bench. I feel convinced that they will be representing a majority of the voters who returned them in such overwhelming numbers to this House if they concentrate upon social legislation, and on improving the lot of the people, and not upon setting up a new privileged class of officials. I do not believe this country wants such a class, and I do not believe that the majority of their supporters want it. For that reason, I ask hon. Members on this occasion to listen with open minds to my remarks upon one or two controls which I am going to mention, and to give me their support. It really is not a question of party politics, because the party opposite should be the very first people to defend the interest of the people of this country and all democracy. The point I am making is that the party opposite would not be here in such large numbers were it not for the working of the free democracy we have to-day.
The first point I want to make is with regard to the re-allocation of man-power. I do not like the word "re-allocation." It seems to be rather inhuman and unsympathetic; it also seems to suggest that when the men have finished being directed into the Services of this country, they are Only released to be once more subjected to discipline and regimentation. Hon. Members opposite may establish some good arguments as to why that should be so, but they will not persuade me that that is a desirable state of affairs, or one which should continue any longer than is absolutely necessary. In the last Parliament I crossed swords with the then Minister of Labour, the present Foreign Secretary, on many occasions and as a result of a considerable number of arguments I understood that during the period of release, Service personnel, men and women, were to be allowed to choose the type of job they wanted and that it was only when they failed to find their own particular job that they became subject to direction. The question I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman is whether that same privilege is to be allowed to the men and women directed to civil jobs. If it is not, it will be grossly unfair that a man or woman who served the country in the Armed Forces should have, during the period of release, the right to choose the job he or she wants and yet their brothers and sisters who may have been in munition factories and so forth should be redirected once more under this re-allocation scheme. That is one of the controls which I should like to see removed, and I am convinced a large number of supporters of hon. Members opposite would also like to see it removed.
Then I would like to ask the Minister of Health, who on many occasions enlightened dull Debates in this House by his sparkling wit in the last Parliament, how can he build and repair houses, so long as the present machinery of approval exists? If one wants to repair houses now, he has to get a certificate from a local authority and then a licence from the Ministry of Works. Then he has to make sure that all the rules and regulations have been complied with by the Ministry of Health and, lastly, he has to send to the right hon. Gentleman's colleague, the Minister of Town and Country Planning, to make sure it does not interfere in any kind of way with his work. Ministries are not quick in their replies, and I cannot see how you are going to "ginger up" the process, until the Minister of Health really gets down to the job. If all these gentlemen have to be concerned with the rabbit pie he should get them all together and let then tuck in and finish with it as soon as they possibly can. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will not be able to exercise that dynamic personality of his, if he has to wait for each Ministry to say whether they have any objection.
I would like to give one other instance which I think my right hon. Friend will appreciate, because it may give him some information upon which to base his future action. A friend of mine told me his house was being repaired, and I asked him if I could go over and see what went on. I went there at half-past seven in the morning, and saw 20 men arrive at 8 o'clock, right on time. Some started to make tea at 10 minutes past 8 and others got down to make a work bench for their own shop, while the employer read a book sitting by the fire. When I said to him, "Is this work going on as quickly as it ought?" he said "I have no authority over these men. These plumbers and electricians are from a local authority pool, and if I start to tell them to get on, they will merely say, 'You have got no right to order us about, as we are not working for you.' I do not care, because I get cost plus, so that it does not matter to me how long the job takes or what it costs." There must be something very definitely wrong there. [An Hon. Member: "Did that happen before the Election or after?"] Forgive me, I am not trying to make party capital out of this. I am giving a few facts upon which the hon. Member will be able to form his own opinion. I am not going to oblige hon. Members by discussing party politics. At 10.30 a small car came along, and in it was the clerk of works. The men all started getting busy when they heard that car. One man started working painting the room, but the clerk of works said, "You must not do that there 'ere. It is against a circular sent out by the Ministry. You must not use paint; you must use distemper." After he had gone, they started to distemper the cornices, and about an hour later a larger car came up with a bigger official from the Ministry of Works, and, when he came in, the first thing he said was, "What are you doing distempering the cornices? You are not allowed to do that." This is not an exaggeration; it is exactly what took place.
The right hon. Gentleman might look into that, because what I have described actually occurred. There is one other control which I regard as important, and it concerns agriculture. If we are to have an efficient agriculture, if the State is to help agriculture as it is doing—I am not going to say that you can get the farmers to carry on without any control at all—farmers are entitled to have indications and assurances on the job that is required. There is one control which I should like to see removed, and for the removal of which I am asking hon. Members opposite to join me. The War Agricultural Executive Committees have done invaluable work in this war, but I think there is one right which hon. Members will agree the farmer should possess. If he receives an order which he thinks has been given unfairly, perhaps through favouritism—and I have had several instances—the farmer should have the right of appeal to an impartial tribunal. It is good to have the support of hon. Members opposite, many of whom now represent agricultural districts in this House, and I hope they will agree that it is a reform that we should press forward as soon as possible.
I have tried to put a point of view and some arguments which I think should be put forward, and I hope hon. Members opposite will assist me in putting them before their own leaders as soon as possible. I am not going into arguments about nationalisation and State control except to make this one point. Let the Government decide what they are going to nationalise, let them decide what controls they want, but let them make it clear now to the industries of the country what they are going to do, because if they do not do that they will create uncertainty and give rise to rumours, which will, perhaps, have a detrimental effect on the future prosperity of this country. Let the Government make clear now what, in their opinion, is good for this country so far as nationalisation is concerned, but, beyond that, let them say, "Go ahead with your enterprises and industries and we will not interfere but help you." I am sure that, if they did that, we should have no need to fear America. The British worker and manufacturer are second to none, and I am perfectly convinced that, if they have a good Government which makes clear to them what it is they are going to do, they will be the first to take off their coats and get down to the job.
I was hoping that the hon. and gallant Member who has just sat down would have enlarged somewhat on his reference to agriculture, because I want to take part in this Debate as a working farmer and as one of a great community which has played its part in this war in a very fine and able manner. I regret to say that we have looked forward to the era of peace with some fear, because, in the short history through which many of us have passed, we have had to recognise that only in the two periods of war has agriculture been prosperous, and we have wondered whether, when we entered into another era of peace, depression would once more come upon our industry. I am glad to be able to think that the Labour Party, although the burden will be very great, are taking a stand in placing agriculture equal with other industries and enabling it to play its part in the era of peace as well as it has played it in war.
The most vital question that is facing us in this country, as well as Central Europe, is the production of food. There is a great scarcity of food, and it is up to us to encourage the agriculturist in every possible way to continue his wartime production to the very highest level he possibly can. The Labour Government, having laid down that it will continue the present policy of guaranteed prices and assured markets to maintain the efficient working of the farms, should now proceed on these lines until a long-term policy can be declared. We must recognise that agriculture depends for its progress upon a long-term policy. We are dealing with long-term methods. We are dealing with life, and you cannot deal with agriculture and life by any short-term method if you are going to increase its development. I am sure that our hope is that the Labour Government will, as early as it possibly can, lay down the long-term policy for agriculture.
I have been somewhat disappointed, as I listened to the speeches of hon. Members opposite, to note that they still possess the same outlook upon the industrial world as they possessed prior to the war. We have heard to-day rather a lot of talk about imports from agricultural countries. I hope that we are not looking forward to imports from agricultural countries and to bringing to this country once more imports which will depress our own agriculture here. If we are to have cheap food we must remember that, wherever it comes from, it arises from cheap labour, and we do not want to have cheap labour, either at home or abroad. I trust that in the international machinery which I hope will be set up in the future there will be such an arrangement as will enable the conditions in agricultural countries to be related more equally throughout the world.
One of the great causes of depression in agriculture in the past has been the lack of agricultural education. I hope that the Labour Government will seriously take up this question. In all our industries we have found that the young people, after leaving school at the age of 14, can enter upon further education. They can enter a night school or evening classes and take engineering commerce, technical subjects, scientific subjects. And thus industry in this country has marched ahead. But when those who have since become farmers or farm workers left school at the age of 14 there was no school that provided an agricultural education equal to the industrial education received by the industrial workers. Is it to be wondered at that agriculture lagged somewhat behind? I ask that the Labour Government, through the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Education, shall remedy this grave defect, and that there shall be provided for the sons and daughters of agricultural workers and farmers facilities equal to those provided for industrial workers. Because of this lack of education there has sprung up in our agricultural community the young farmer's clubs, which are undoubtedly doing a fine piece of work. They are to be commended in every possible way, but I say that this greatest single industry which this country possesses ought not to rely for its education upon what are actually voluntary associations. The State ought to take this in hand, and I hope the State will. In putting forward on this occasion this plea for agriculture, I hope that the Government will, at the first opportunity, take it in hand.
I think we are all agreed that we have just listened to a most excellent and well delivered speech by a Member who sincerely feels the truth of what he is speaking. It is with particular pleasure that I welcome his intervention in our Debates in that he represents agriculture, as I, too, do, in the main. It is not always that I can agree with all the sentiments I hear from hon. Members opposite, in fact practically never, but on this occasion I do not think that there can be a more profound truth than the statement made by the hon. Member as to the desirability, in fact the necessity, of a long-term policy for agriculture. We all look forward to the hon. Member's future interventions in our Debates.
While I am welcoming the hon. Member I think it would also be fitting if I welcomed to this House as best I may, as an Ulster Member, two other Ulster Members, the hon. Members for Tyrone and Fermanagh (Mr. Mulvey and Mr. Cunningham). To put the matter on its true footing I should explain that I voted against them very heartily, and have done everything I can to prevent representatives of their particular view from being elected to this House. On the other hand they have removed from us a great reproach. It is sometimes said that the Irish are rather hasty. The two hon. Members concerned have been Members of this House for over 10 years. To-day, for the first time, I saw with great pleasure that they took the oath and took their seats. I do not think we can accuse them in any sense of having acted in raw haste.
I wish on this occasion to speak upon matters which are not party matters, and which really raise no party issues. On the other hand they are matters which affect my hon. Friends from Northern Ireland and myself very vitally. I refer to the provision of adequate ships to take people between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House, who as Home Secretary, was frequently attacked by masses of Ulster Members on this very topic, will bear me out when I say that it is a matter of vital importance to us and is not of any party nature. I would particularly emphasise that I am not in any way criticising the present Minister of War Transport, because he has not been very long in office, but I am hoping he will see that this is a matter of importance to us. The deep feeling on it in Northern Ireland is not realised in this country. The origin of the cut in ships going to Ulster arose really from security regulations. During the war it was desired on security grounds that as few people as possible should pass between Great Britain and Ireland as a whole, because at that time there was in Eire a recognised representative of both the countries with which we were at war, Germany and Japan. There was an open Border between Northern Ireland and Eire, and as it was clearly very important that as little information as possible passed from one country to the other, those who were allowed to cross were limited to either extreme compassionate cases or people working in the war effort.
When these limitations had been imposed, there were of course far fewer people travelling. Thereupon the ships which normally took travellers from Great Britain to Northern Ireland were taken by the Government and used for other purposes, some of them actually as warships. Several of them were sunk, and all of them with, I think about one exception, disappeared from the role for which they had been designed. When the war with Germany ended, and the security regulations were removed as being no longer necessary, the number of ships plying between Great Britain and Northern Ireland was wholly and utterly inadequate. There were great crowds of people wishing to travel, people who had not seen their friends, and in some cases their relations, for five years or more, but they could not get sailing tickets because the number of ships was quite insufficient for the traffic. The figures in the late Spring showed 12,000 gross tons of shipping available—they have improved since' by not more than about 2,000 tons. In pre-war days 40,000 tons was available. The capacity was about 4,000 passengers, whereas in pre-war days 16,000 passengers could be carried in any one period of 24 hours. In addition to the people who normally want to go backwards and forwards on their lawful occasions, there is a vastly increased traffic owing to Service people coming and going on leave.
The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House, as Home Secretary, limited Ulster people travelling pretty drastically. We were the only people who had real restrictions put on our travel, because the evacuees from London, from his own neighbourhood, those melancholy caravans, had no restrictions put upon them. But we, living in the same island as those who live in Eire, which was not a matter for which we are altogether to blame, were subjected to the most violent prohibition upon travel. If the Gracious Speech had said that the blockade of Ulster was coming to an end, it would have been an extremely welcome statement, because at the present time travel is nothing like free. It is very difficult to get a sailing ticket, to get a permit to travel, and when one has got over to one side one does not know when one will get back.
Where are the ships? Those which ran from Heysham to Belfast were mostly used as hospital ships. Surely it is possible that they should now be refitted and allowed to work on their old trade for which they were designed, to carry people between England and Northern Ireland, to replace the very much smaller and less appropriate vessels now working on the route. What has happened to the two surviving ships which used to sail from Liverpool, ships of which we were very proud? They were about the finest cross-channel passenger vessels plying round the British Isles. Originally there were three of them, but one was sunk in the evacuation of Greece. They have been taken, I believe, as warships, though I am not quite clear about that. It is extraordinary to me that in my constituency I can see rows and rows of corvettes laid up on the mud, ships specially built as warships, yet our own cross-channel steamers which have been so used have not yet been returned. If they are not restored to us now for cross-channel service, when will they be restored? What is the policy?
I have been dealing with the East of Northern Ireland. I now come to my own constituency, and particularly the port of Londonderry. When the attack on our life line across the Atlantic began it was quite clear to the Admiralty that the best base for small craft of the escort class—destroyers, sloops, corvettes and frigates—was the port of Londonderry. It was greatly developed, and the ships there did magnificent service. I have seen recently the tributes to that service in nearly 60 German submarines tied up in the port of Londonderry, A price had to be paid for its use as a naval base. As there were over 100 ships based on it there had to be a prohibition on its use as a civil port. Civil traffic was entirely stopped, and now it has not been started again. I want to know why. We used to have ocean ships, deep sea ships, bringing in timber, grain, fertilisers. They do not now come in, because as a temporary war-time measure everything was diverted to Belfast, so as to keep Londonderry clear for the naval traffic. It is very hard luck on the dockers in Londonderry and also on those engaged in the distributing trade. To send coal, for instance, right across the North of Ireland in trucks when it could have been brought by ships to Londonderry, is both foolish and uneconomical. I can only suppose that the reason for it is that the practice was started in the war, and it has not really been come to as a problem by the Ministry of War Transport. It would certainly be a most shameful thing if the port of Londonderry were victimised for the services which it rendered to the Royal Navy as a base.
Then there used always to be a daily service from Londonderry to Glasgow, carrying both goods and passengers. Despite the deplorable political opinions of some of the people in Glasgow, judged by those they elect, there is a very close connection between the people of Ulster and the people of Glasgow. They have many relations. The loss of that service is very marked. The company would certainly put it on if they were allowed to have the ships which used to run on that route. Even now, although there is a ship which runs two days a week from Glasgow to Londonderry and back, she carries only goods, although apparently quite capable of carrying passengers. In the big months before the war as many as 15,000 passengers used to travel direct from Londonderry to Glasgow. That would be one way of relieving the great strain upon the present shipping available for cross-channel services.
In making these remarks I have tried to bring to the notice of the Minister of War Transport how urgent my friends and I consider this matter to be. It is a vital matter for us. It is in no sense a criticism of the right hon. Gentleman, who has treated me with particular courtesy in letting me know to some extent what his intentions are as regards this particular question, and I make absolutely no criticism of him. But I am not sure that my attitude will always remain what it is if in the future he fails to remedy what we consider to be a gross injustice. This is in no sense a threat, but the natural reaction of any honest Member to the vital needs of his constituents. In this matter we have had less than justice, possibly because we were completely patient during the war period. There was hardly ever a complaint against being blockaded in Ireland and not being able to travel backwards and forwards. But now there is a clear demand that we should be given back the ships that should run on these services, and we should be allowed once again to have free travel throughout the United Kingdom. Why should we be singled out not to have free travel? I know the right hon. Gentleman can use the ships in other ways, but think what would be the position if all the trains that run to Scotland were sent over to the Continent. There is a shortage of trains on the Continent and the trains that run to. Scotland would be much appreciated there. Thank what a hullabaloo there would be if they were taken off. Why should they be treated under one rule and we under another? I think the patience of the people of Ulster has been exemplary in this matter, and, the war being over, the time has now come when everything should be done to restore to them the ships which have been used in the national interest and to allow what is, after all, one of those objects which is perhaps the keenest that we seek, to keep a close connection between Ulster and Great Britain. Therefore, I think it is very unjust if every effort is not made as soon as possible to restore the ships which have been taken and to enable us once more to have the privilege of free travel.
I approach this, my first speech in this House, somewhat more boldly than some previous speakers, but that is because I speak at the end of four days of Debate in which the House has been infinitely kind to those who have been speaking for the first time, and I am hoping they will extend their kindness to me. Like some hon. Members who to-day have spoken from these benches, I have been gratified at the sight of hon. Gentlemen opposite leaning over backwards to offer friendly support to the new Government, and to praise it with faint damns. Even the ranks of Aldershot could scarcely forbear to cheer. I hope it will not be uncharitable, if some of us view this miraculous dispensation with a certain scepticism, and if, like the hon. Member for Bolton (Mr. John Lewis) we recall the Latin tag Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes, which I would render more freely than he did: "If your opponent hands you a bunch of flowers, you want to take jolly good care there is not a bomb tied up in the middle of it." I have too much respect for hon. Gentlemen opposite to compare this healthy humility on their part, with that of the devil who "a monk would be," not only because he was sick, but because recently he had stood in the shadow of death.
On Friday last the hon. Member for Chippenham (Mr. Eccles), whom I am glad to see opposite, even went so far as to express approval of the nationalisation of certain industries, though, with becoming modesty, he declined to say which they were. The burden of his argument—and he has been followed by many other hon. Gentlemen opposite—is that we are concerned with the efficiency of British industry and not with its ownership.
Some have gone so far as to suggest that the question of ownership is irrelevant to the question of efficiency. This is an attractive fallacy which in the last year or two has become very common among certain circles in the business world and among certain organs of their opinion. I beg His Majesty's Government, if they need any begging from me, to have nothing to do with this theory which can be so easily disproved. It is very nice of hon. Gentlemen opposite to say to the Government in effect, because this is broadly what they have said, "The efficiency of British industry which we and our friends have been running for so long is appallingly low. For goodness' sake, will you do something about it for us?" In saying this they display a great measure of confidence in the Government, and I am satisfied that that confidence will not be misplaced. Concern for the efficiency of the British industry is not, and never has been, confined to one side of this House, and there are on these benches people whose interest in and acquaintance with problems of industrial organisation go a great deal deeper than the annual perusal of a dividend warrant or the more frequent study of the latest book-makers' prices on the Stock Exchange.
This word "efficiency" as applied to industry, has been much abused. It is not an absolute term. It is a relative term. An organism cannot just be efficient or inefficient. It can only be efficient or inefficient in the fulfilment of certain functions. There is no point at all in setting up an organisation which displays meticulous efficiency in achieving the wrong things. There is no point in building aeroplanes efficiently if afterwards you either do not use them, or you use them for destruction. There is no point in growing food efficiently if the result is to ruin the farmers. There is no point in having the most wonderfully efficient machines if they have to be manned by unhappy, unhealthy or underpaid workers. The greatest inefficiency of all in industry—and there are many—is not, as some people think, the waste of capital or labour or materials, but the waste of end-products, because that wastes capital, labour and materials all at once.
That is why the first ingredient for industrial efficiency is planned consumption. Unless we have that, we can have as many more new machines as we like or as many extra revolutions per minute in the speed of existing machines, but we shall still do no more than scratch the surface of the problem. Moreover, efficiency in industry depends upon a moral as well as upon a mechanical factor. It depends upon everyone engaged in industry, from the most highly skilled manager down to the newest shop-boy, understanding and agreeing with the purpose towards which the enterprise is directed. You never would play a football match with a team unless every member of the team was shooting at the same goal.
Never in the history of British industry was there so much co-operation in our factories, and so much efficiency as a result, as in the few months after Dunkirk. That was because, at that time, every section forgot its own sectional interests and all worked together in a common task because they felt they had a common purpose. No one who works in factories will deny that that sense of a common purpose has, since that time, notably diminished, and in many places has disappeared altogether. That is because the workers in industry, by which I mean managers and technicians as well as the operative workers, have, for the last two or three years lost confidence in the objects for which industry is being pursued. The point has been made by several hon. Members opposite and I hope I may be allowed to say, with respect and humility, that I think they made the point very well and very forcibly, that if we want industrialists to be enterprising the Government have to give them a feeling of confidence in their future. That is a valid point, but it is equally necessary that we should give a feeling of confidence to the workers in their future and a feeling of confidence about the objects for which they are working. They must be made to feel that an increase in output will be directed in peace time as well as in war time to the public interest and not to purely sectional interests.
If they are given that assurance, I say, as one who has spent his life working among them, they will unleash a spate of productive and creative energy the like of which we have never seen. On that flood tide British industry, for the home market and for the export markets, can reach new high levels of efficiency, enormous levels of efficiency; and that is where public ownership comes in. It is only by public ownership—I beg hon. Members opposite to pay attention to this point, which is not a party point—which can remove from the minds of the workers those suspicions and those inhibitions which, in the past, have handicapped their best intentions and their best efforts. With great respect, I would say to the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Butler), who on Friday last derided nationalisation as a nostrum, that he missed the all-important point that whatever you may think about public ownership as a political or a social form, it has, under modern conditions, become an almost indispensable technique in the creation of industrial efficiency.
I have one last word on another of the ingredients of operational efficiency, and that is the practice, which some of us have learned in factories, of never telling a man to do a job unless you are prepared to tell him also why you ask him to do it. In the weeks and months that lie ahead, His Majesty's Government are going to have to tell this country to do and to undergo many unpleasant things. I believe the nation is fully prepared for that. I believe the nation will be willing to undergo all those things without complaint provided they are treated as adults and told fully and frankly the facts, figures and reasons behind governmental decisions. A nation which stood out for six years of war in the way ours did will stand any amount of straight talking to, but it will not stand being talked down to. Members of this Government who, up to now, have made public pronouncements of their policy have shown a most commendable tendency to abandon the secrecy mania of the past and to take the nation squarely into their confidence. I beg them and their colleagues to continue to do this, because there will then be no limit to the progress they can make and in which the House and the nation will follow them.
It falls to my lot and it is my privilege to take advantage of it, to compliment the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken upon a very lively and able maiden speech. He has a nice conversational style, and that easy expression which we much admire in this House, and although he has uttered a number of controversial remarks and statements, I should not, according to the usage of this House, take him up upon them, but I promise him that if he repeats them, we shall not let him off quite so easily next time. We shall look forward to his further contributions to the Debates in this House with great pleasure.
The time allotted to the discussion of the Address has not been very long. In the last Parliament we had 10or 12 days on the Address but on this occasion the time has been cut down to less than half. I do not apologise, after all the great questions which have been discussed to-day of trade and industry, on which, naturally, I do not pretend to be any authority, for desiring to make reference to one or two other matters which come within the general compass of the Gracious Speech. I listened to the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Had he been here I should like to have felicitated him on taking office. I have listened to him in this House for many years. When I listened to his speech to-day, I was reminded of a remark made by a very distinguished politician who is not a Member of this House now. He said that the Labour Party reminded him of the days of 1906, when the Liberal Government were returned with such a tremendous majority. He said that that Government were saved by one man alone, and that was David Lloyd George. I have been wondering who is going to save this Government.
We shall look to see where salvation shall arise. Will it arise from some of the leaders or from some of the younger men, to whose brilliant maiden speeches we have been listening with so much pleasure? But there is one thing I will say. It certainly will not be saved in the same way as the Liberal Party in 1906, which came into office at a time when we had flourishing trade, and abundant prosperity in this country, and at that time no enemy and no competitor worth talking about in the markets of the world. The then Chancellor of the Exchequer saved that Government, by social security Measures which appealed to the people. That will not be the problem of the Chancellor of the Exchequer of this Government to-day. We have no trade. Our social security stands at a level which will bear comparison with any nation in Europe, and any nation in the world. Even throughout the war years we have contributed to the social security of this country by constant legislation.
The problem of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in this Government will be to meet the immense programme of social measures to which many hon. Members on that side have referred, because the doctrine of the pint pot applies to the Labour Party as much as to any other party. You cannot take out of it more than there is in it. That is an economic doctrine which will remain long after the present Government has passed out of office, and other Governments have succeeded it.
We shall see. I was disappointed in one remark made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the question of taxation. I fully appreciate that the Chancellor is not able to prognosticate what the coming Budget may be, but his remarks on taxation were not anything like as encouraging as the remarks to the House by the right hon. Gentleman whom he succeeded in regard to taxation, on which trade prosperity and the livelihood of private individuals largely depends. I hope that the Chancellor will be able to change his pessimism at a later date into some form of optimism.
Hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House have come back in a great majority, but they have no clear mandate from the country for Socialism. They have no clear majority in the country if the votes of my hon. Friends the Liberals on the Bench below me are to be regarded as votes for free enterprise and the liberty of the subject against State Socialism. I am not sure where the Liberal Party stands in this House, but we on this Bench will see that we are the custodians of the great Liberal tradition. I agree that there is a great body of support in the country for some Measures on which the Government may embark, but they have no clear majority from the people for State Socialism. After all, who would dare to start analysing this great landslide? Many hon. Gentlemen on the Government side came back on grievances for which many of them were responsible while they were members of the late Coalition Government. There were the accumulated grievances of ten years, and they received the votes of Service people and the wives of Service people on such questions as leave and pay. There are many Members on this side who were equally responsible, and I do not: blame the Labour Party for cashing in in a political fight as best they could. I have no hesitation in saying that when the next election comes the grievances will all be on this side and not on the other side.
The hon. Member has no right to say that. I maintained at this election the same majority as I had at the last, and what authority has any Member on that side to say that any Member on this side will not be returned?
I want to mention a subject of which I have some knowledge. The Government are making provision for a national health service, and I warn them that they must go slowly if they are going to secure contentment for our people. I am the only one of two Members on this side who has spent many years as a general medical practitioner, and I wish the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health well in his preparation of this scheme. In the national health service he will be embarking on legislation which will touch the people in their homes more intimately and directly than any piece of legislation which the Government have in contemplation. The medical profession has been in the forefront in trying to bring forward schemes for the improvement of our medical service. If the Government will cooperate with them, with the local authorities and with the governors of voluntary hospitals to hammer out a scheme which will be satisfactory to our people on the lines of the White Paper which on the whole has the general acceptance of the House, we on this side will give them every support.
But I warn the Government that if, on the other hand, they ignore the great medical profession and its traditions of freedom, and cast away all the principles of their trade union doctrines which necessitate consultations with every trade union before any legislation is embarked upon and do not take into consultation and secure some measure of agreement with the very people who are vitally affected, they will get the most resolute opposition, comma by comma and line by line, from this side to any national health service which obliterates the great principle of the private patient having free choice of his doctor, on which the whole basis of medical service has relied for generations. If there is any intention on the part of the Government to make this great profession of medicine a State-salaried Civil Service, they will be up against the biggest fight they have ever tackled. I thought it as well to express this point of view, for I am sure I am expressing the point of view of 95 per cent. of the medical profession.
I have no doubt that hon. Gentlemen and other members of the Socialist medical association who have for a long time advocated a State medical service want such a scheme. Neither have I any doubt that he will support the Government in their proposals, but he should not expect us on this side of the House to support them.
The conference of the medical profession, assembled last summer, by an almost overwhelming majority—93 per cent. against 7—voted against some of the proposals which the then Minister of Health brought before them on behalf of the Government. I do not want to enter into controversy in this matter with the hon. Member, nor do I wish to end on a controversial note. I welcome the freshness and originality displayed in this new House. I welcome the introduction of new blood. As far as we can, we on this side of the House will co-operate with them to the best of our ability. I am a member of a small party of 13 Members and it is quite true that we have been returned in close cooperation and accord with the Conservative Party. We make no denial of that. Speaking for myself, on three successive occasions in my own constituency, I have had the overwhelming support of the Conservative Party and it has been made quite clear that I have worked in co-operation with, and will support, that party. At the same time it is only fair to say that we do bring a slightly different point of view from theirs into the discussions of this House. In my opinion the Liberalism represented on this bench far more adequately represents the Liberalism of the country than that of my hon. Friends, the party led by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies), and it will be our endeavour to maintain those Liberal traditions.
I rise to address this House for the first time with a rather quick-beating heart, and I make the usual request for the sympathetic understanding of this generous Assembly on this occasion. Hon. Members who have spoken in this Debate, and the humble apprentices on this side of the House, have reminded me rather of bathers on an English summer or late summer day, wanting to go in, each waiting for the other to take the plunge, with those who are in explaining how lovely it is and those who are out hardly able to believe it. I jump in to-day because, since industry is to be discussed on the Address in reply to the Gracious Speech, I felt that the temperature of the water had been slightly increased to help me. I represent a constituency in the London suburban belt which, after 60 years of faithful and misguided allegiance to His Majesty's present Opposition, has at last repented, and sent me here. Wimbledon is certainly more notable for its ancient common, its interesting windmill, and its international tenants than for its mines, factories and warehouses. Nevertheless great numbers of my constituents are dependent for their daily bread and butter—or margarine—on the leadership of British engineers and scientists in world affairs. They are equally dependent, as hon. Members on both sides of the House will agree, on the continued prosperity of our industry at home. I doubt whether there is a single inch of our island which could proclaim itself uninterested in the future of British industry. Such a place, if it existed, should have its population mentally examined, because only a lunatic could be indifferent to the urgency and importance of this subject.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler), when speaking earlier in the Debate of certain aspects of the Gracious Speech, was prompt to refer to what he called the danger of a doctrinaire approach to problems which, he implied, needed the greatest broadness of mind if they were to be solved adequately. Since then, other hon. Members on the other side have used this word in the same context. I have certainly no desire to start my Parliamentary career by being provocative, but this word "doctrinaire" is very fashionable at the present time in certain Conservative intellectual circles. In fact, if I wanted a modern definition of the word, I would say that it was a term of abuse used by young, or nearly young, Tories. If there ever was a doctrinaire approach to these deep matters affecting the control and ownership of British industry, it came during the Election, I respectfully suggest, from hon. Gentlemen on the other side and from some of their friends who have not succeeded in getting back to this place. Surprising as it may seem to some, it was one of the factors which, in my opinion, helped the Labour Party to win the Election. It may be possible for hon. Members now supporting the Government to point out to the electors, that the Conservatives were promising all kinds of reforms, on the basis of an economic system which completely failed to deliver the goods in the period between the wars. We were able to say that that would have meant a return to the economics of the 1930's, meaning also, in due course a return to the unemployment and depression of the 1930's.
This argument, may I say with due humility, did appeal to the electors in my particular division, because after all—and again this may seem rather surprising to hon. Members on the opposite side—divisions such as Wimbledon were won by the Labour Party at this Election by arguments and not by sweeping promises. Our cause was tremendously helped throughout by the fixation, to use a popular psychological word, of our opponents on so-called free enterprise. We said they were Stone Age economists, which was rather unfair, because we knew at heart they were only Bronze Age. I am leading up to the point that many hon. Members on this side who have had some connection with industry in a practical or professional sense are fully alive to the need for flexibility and experiment when we embark on great schemes for public ownership. I believe that every assumption that we make, and every idea we have, must be up to date and that each scheme for reorganisation should be capable of re-examination in a critical light. There is certainly no hard-and-fast remedy to be applied to every British industry to cure its ills and usher in the millennium. I hope there is not one hon. Member on this side who has any connection with or experience of industry who would make the ridiculous suggestion that there is.
We are faced to-day in this country not with the problems of one or two industries in isolation, but with the transfer of the whole economic life of the country to a peace-time basis, and it is of the utmost importance to the people of this country—and that is why I believe they elected so many Members supporting the present Government—that this peace basis should be permanent and stable, providing work for everybody, with wages and prices adjusted to give a rising standard of life evenly spread over the whole population. I know that the hope of this is bound up with, the recovery of our foreign trade, as the Prime Minister has already stated and as hon. Members opposite also have stated, and with, a new kind of financial policy. These matters are outside my knowledge, if I am to talk as any sort of an expert. I merely want to say that the recovery and reconstruction of this land will certainly depend upon the knowledge, skill and hard work of the industrialists, the engineers, and the workpeople, and I beg the Government, in whom I have tremendous confidence, to see that their efforts are not thrown away because of the kind of financial policy that nearly ruined us in the years between the wars. I believe that the industrial future of this country depends upon the success with which we can build up a mixed economy, by which I mean a system in which private enterprise has its due place and exists beside or even competes with socialised enterprise. The right hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton) made a suggestion—in a speech for which I had considerable respect, if not admiration—that there was in the Labour Party a slavish admiration for the Russian or Soviet system. I have been in the Labour Party for a long time, and I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that no such, feeling exists inside the Labour Party, or if it does, I have never noticed it.
Here I come to my particular interest in life, electricity. I believe that in a mixed system of industry, electricity as a universal provider of power has a tremendous part to play. I have spent what is still quite a short working life in the art and business of generating and distributing electrical energy. I do not think that because I have come to the House my working life has necessarily come to an end; I am beginning to get the impression that it has only just begun. The Gracious Speech states that the Government propose to introduce a concerted plan for the co-ordination of the fuel and power industries. I take it that the word "power" refers principally to the electricity supply industry. I do not think there can be any doubts as to the ultimate intentions of the Government with regard to the electricity supply industry. It is well known that electricity supply is, in the nature of things, a natural monopoly service eminently suitable for complete public ownership. The wholesale side of the industry, that is, the bulk generation and transmission, is already well looked after by the Central Electricity Board, and the experiences of wartime bombing have proved up to the hilt the wisdom of the House in passing the 1926 Act. That Act gave us the great grid system. It has given the industry of this country a measure of security and a degree of flexibility in its electricity supply which would not have been possible under independent generation; but unfortunately, due to the confused organisation of the distribution side, the savings which have been brought about by the national planning of the wholesale side have not been passed on fully to the consumers.
The fact that the distribution side of the electricity supply industry needs drastic overhauling, is not something that has been discovered by biased Socialist theorists in the last year or two. It was in 1935 that the Conservative Government appointed the now famous McGowan Committee and gave that Committee the task of reporting on the electrical distribution system of the country. I do not propose to pass any opinion on the rights or wrongs, the merits or demerits, of the famous McGowan Report, but I have my opinion and no doubt I shall have an opportunity of expressing it at a later stage. For various reasons, among them the opposition of the interests, both company and local authority nothing was ever done. The war came along, and the electrical supply reorganisation was for the time being shelved; but with reconstruction and other problems now upon us it is certain that a new electricity supply Act is long overdue. It was stated on behalf of the Coalition Government in 1942—I am speaking from memory—in another place that the Paymaster-General was looking into this matter of electricity. I do not know why the Paymaster-General should look into these things. That is one of the queer things I still have yet to understand about this House of Commons. He was to report to the Minister in due course.
I hope, therefore, the Government will give some indication of their intentions with regard to electrical development at an early stage, and I trust that in the long-term policy questions such as the electrification of railways and rural electrification will have the attention of the Government. I hope also that that admirable report of the Committee which recently considered the possibility of using the tidal energy of the Severn is being considered, and that they will do something about it in due course.
There is a great deal of talk about this country being on the edge of a new atomic era, particularly in the popular science papers, if not in the scientific Press itself. I hope that the country will one day be on the edge of a new electrical age, and that the Government, which I have the honour to support, will give the electrical engineers of this country the tremendous opportunity for which they are looking, and that we shall sec electricity in Great Britain as a vital liberating force, setting men and women free from the chains of darkness, dirt and needless physical toil.
I am very happy that it falls to me, as one whose maiden speech was made not so long ago, to congratulate the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Mr. Palmer) on a careful and thoughtful speech, which, I can assure him, we all enjoyed and I am sure he will forgive me, in view of the lateness of the hour, for not extending at length my congratulations. I hope it will not be disagreeable to the House before this Debate ends if I turn to two subjects which are dealt with somewhat summarily in the Gracious Speech and on which so far we have had rather a small amount of light thrown by the Government.
There are two subjects with which I have been closely connected for the last two years, and I want first to say something and ask some questions about the position and prospects of the plan for the National Health Service. But even before I do that I want to refer to one aspect of demobilisation, which I do not think has been mentioned so far. I refer to the release of doctors from the Services. Even when we had the Japanese war on hand, I was very doubtful whether the Services were not retaining far more doctors than necessary on a true appreciation of the acute shortage under which both doctors and civilians at home were suffering. We were told that the needs of the Navy were going to be very great and that the ratio of doctors in the Far East campaign in the Army would have to be far greater than in Europe. Those contentions were true at that time but now the position has completely changed, and I hope the Lord President of the Council will be able to assure us that the Government will, now the war is over, see that the supply of doctors at home is rapidly increased. He knows, as I know, that the need is very great.
I was disturbed by the statement of the Lord Privy Seal that in the view of the Government it was necessary, as far as the National Health Service was concerned, to go back to the position as it was in March, 1944, start afresh the discussions contemplated by the White Paper and by the Parliament which considered those proposals. It had always been in my mind that legislation should be introduced this year and that the comprehensive Health Scheme should come into operation at the same time as, if not before, the general insurance plan. Surely this must be so. Certainly the framing of the Social Insurance plan should be proceeded with energetically. It is even more complex than the Health Scheme. But from the very beginning the existence of a comprehensive health service was assumed to be essential to all-in insurance. Indeed, in Sir William Beveridge's Report it was one of the three assumptions, assumption B. I find it very hard to imagine an insurance scheme covering the whole population, unless there should be, at the same time, a medical service, including the rehabilitation about which we have learned so much during the war, available to those who are not covered at all at present.
There are two other urgent factors. It is most important that doctors, particularly young doctors returning from the Services, should know at as early a date as possible what forms of professional work are going to be open to them. The other is this. There has come into existence during the war a vast hospital organisation wholly financed by the State under war-finance arrangements, and this has to be replanned for peace-time purposes. The whole planning of our hospital resources is most urgent and important, and until there is legislation, hospitals, both voluntary and municipal, will be in the greatest possible difficulty as to their future function and their future development.
On Friday last—I regret to have to say this—the Lord Privy Seal made some most inaccurate and misleading observations about the course of events since March, 1944. He said that after an inordinate delay it had transpired that I had reopened secret discussions behind the backs of everybody else with the British Medical Association and that the outcome was a terrible muddle, causing great and unnecessary delay, I wonder if this reference to muddle is an excuse for delay on the part of the Government. The right hon. Gentleman was not a member of the Coalition Government. He was, therefore not so well informed as, for example, the Leader of the House. But even so, I was surprised at his inaccuracy.
What in fact occurred was, that at an early date after the White Paper Debate the discussions expressly contemplated by Parliament were initiated by the then Secretary of State for Scotland and myself. They were not only or even primarily with the British Medical Association. They were with the local authorities, with the voluntary hospitals, and with a body representative of the whole medicalprofession—the Royal Colleges, the medical officers of health and the general practitioners. The B.M.A. representatives made up about one half of one of the three bodies with whom I had the main discussions, in conjunction with the right hon. Gentleman the late Secretary of State for Scotland, and there were, of course, other discussions with chemists and dentists and other bodies.
There were issues arising on the White Paper of very great importance to all these bodies and to the public. Let me give a few examples. The local authorities disliked very much the proposal to transfer their hospitals to Joint Boards.
If the right hon. and learned Gentleman is going to tell the House the whole of the discussions that took place between himself and some of these authorities, I hope he will not complain if at some other stage I complete the picture.
Fortunately, I am in a stronger position with regard to describing something in which I took part, than the right hon. Gentleman who was not present. I was going to give the House a few examples of the major issues that arose in these discussions and to tell the House what was the result of them. The local authorities raised the point I have mentioned. Both the voluntary hospitals and the medical profession claimed a fuller share in the planning of the future hospital and other services than was accorded to them by the White Paper, and the voluntary hospitals also expressed strong objection to receiving direct aid from local rates. The best opinion, both lay and medical, was really unanimous that the White Paper scheme gave no adequate place to the influence which the universities with medical schools should be able to bring to bear on the planning and development of the hospital and health services. The voluntary hospitals and the doctors were apprehensive as to local authority control of their work, and the general practitioners themselves were among many who objected strongly to the powers which the White Paper proposed should be entrusted to a Central Medical Board.
There was a great deal to be said for all these contentions. They were all serious matters proper for discussion, and those who came to discuss them, though critical, were most helpful. In the result, by the end of May we had reached a stage where, without the loss of a single service contemplated by the White Paper, and without any thought of abandoning the idea of a wide-scale trial of health centres of various kinds, a structure had emerged likely to command such general agreement that it was possible to begin and indeed to make considerable progress with the drafting of the necessary legislation. There was no muddle whatever, and I sincerely hope that the Government will not take the view that so much work and effort—I am not referring to my own efforts but to the work and effort so willingly given by those most skilled in these matters—should foe treated as nugatory but that, on the contrary, the Government will take the view that this is a subject which can be, and should be, dealt with in the same spirit as was shown by the last Parliament in dealing with the Education Bill. There really ought not to be an excess of party politics in the health services of the nation.
I turn for a very few moments to housing—a grave and most difficult problem for any Minister—and for the sake of millions of my fellow countrymen I hope that the right hon. Gentleman and his more experienced Parliamentary Secretary will not fall short of what is possible, though I am afraid they will inevitably fall short of the expectations that have been aroused by others than those who sit on these benches. As to rural housing, I am bound to say that I was shocked by the Government's decision not to re-introduce the Housing (Rural Workers) (Amendment) Bill. We take note of the promise to make proposals that will be more fruitful, but these Acts expire on the 30th September. There is no time for delay. The work should be going forward and the applications made at once, and I must remind the House of the background of the proposal which was made by the last Government—and I hope the Lord President will give some better explanation than was given by the Lord Privy Seal, who merely said that the Acts had been insufficiently applied in England and that Scotland, where they had been well applied—Scotland, with all its terrible housing problems—should not have any special advantages. It is a fact that those on this side of the House were most pressing for this Bill, but we all want to preserve the beauty of our countryside, we all want better homes for agricultural workers.
What I would emphasise is this, that rural housing is of special and immediate importance to-day, when we are all agreed on maintaining food production and maintaining the highest standard of living in the countryside. I feel sure myself that in a balanced programme, even in these early months reconditioning should find a large and useful place. Keen expectation was aroused that this Act would be brought into force. It was the unanimous recommendation of the Hobhouse Committee on rural housing, of which the Noble Lady the Member for Anglesey (Lady Megan Lloyd-George) was a member, and that recommendation was passed on unanimously by the Central Housing Advisory Committee, of which the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Town and Country Planning was a member. If this gap is not filled, and filled early, if an adequate substitute is not provided, there will be a great set-back in our agricultural housing which will be recorded to the discredit of the Government in all our rural districts.
Even more serious, because it is on a larger scale, is the decision to give no financial assistance except, as I under- stand the position, to municipal tenants. It was really, if I may be forgiven for saying so, a little absurd to refer, as the Lord Privy Seal did, to letting loose large-scale private building of houses for sale whilst the most urgent needs of the people remained. Before the war 35 per cent. of the householders in this country were owner-occupiers, and I cannot help thinking that there are many hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House who would like to see that percentage increased. We do not want the whole of our population to consist of municipal tenants. [Hon. Members: "Why not?"] Why not? Because I believe the Englishman likes owning his own home.
On this matter, too, I was advised unanimously by Sir Felix Pole's Committee that private-enterprise building should start at once, and surely it is only fair that part of the burden of the present cost should be lifted from the shoulders of those who want to buy or rent a house from someone other than a local authority. The scheme which was announced on the 14th June was one that strictly limited the size of the house. There was no risk that the local authorities would be impeded in their operations because the whole discretion was given to the local authorities to license the number of houses of any particular type, and I cannot believe—I hope the Government will disperse my incredulity—that the Government will get or can get the greatest speed, or meet the wishes and needs of the nation as a whole, until they encourage the private builders who are ready, in many cases with house sites already developed, who are keen to start, and who agreed that a scheme of this kind with all its controls was workable. There is a very real risk that if the present proposals—so far as they have been announced—are all that the Government have, too heavy a burden will be thrown on the local authorities. I am a great believer in local authority housing, but it must be remembered that only once in their history have the local authorities built more than 90,000 houses in a year, and our needs go far beyond that.
That reminds me of another point in connection with demobilisation, on which I feel certain that I shall get a sympathetic response. For years the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health has been pressing for an increase in local authority technical, architectural, and surveying staffs. There is a great opportunity, now the war is over, to see that these staffs are brought up to strength at a very early date.
The coming winter will be very difficult. The Government have a better opportunity for speedy action than any of us had counted on by reason of the end of the Japanese War, but the increased rate of demobilisation will offset that advantage in the early months, and increase their problem. I have very great faith in the generosity and the friendliness of our British people, and I believe that much could be done—on a voluntary basis, I sincerely hope—to encourage the sharing of homes where there is spare room. This could be facilitated if for approved lettings covenants against sub-letting could be temporarily abrogated and the tenancy made free of the Rent Restriction Acts.
I want to ask whether the Government will not as soon as possible give us more information as to their plans? I do not think they like being reminded of the fact that the President of the Board of Trade assured his constituents in the course of the Election that the housing situation could be clarified, indeed, could be dealt with, in a fortnight. I would rather recall what the Lord Privy Seal said about the White Paper which was issued by the Government, of which the Leader of the House was a member, last March. He described it as "chicken feed for a hungry nation." I would ask the Government to produce their own White Paper in good time so that Members in all parts of the House may consider it before we meet again on 9th October and thereby contrast, if they can, how much better things will be—for much better they ought to be able to do—as a result of the great windfall which the Government have received through the end of the war.
I will do my best although, I am afraid, necessarily briefly, to deal with some of the points which have been raised by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for North Croydon (Mr. Willink). There was a Debate on Friday about housing and social services, but I quite appreciate the wish of the right hon. and learned Gentleman—for which I do not blame him at all—to make certain comments on the speech of my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal. Perhaps I may be forgiven for making only a few comments, because I want to deal, in the main, with some of the broad considerations of the economic situation which face us at this time and the spirit and mind in which His Majesty's Government approach these problems. The right hon. and learned Gentleman opposite raised, not unreasonably, the question of the release of doctors from the Armed Forces for the purpose of assisting in the undoubtedly serious situation that exists in regard to medical services for the civilian population. I can assure him that the Minister of Health is pursuing this matter with just as much vigour, persuasion and energy as the right hon. and learned Gentleman did in the late Government. [An Hon. Member: "More, I hope."] Well, I was not intending to be controversial at this moment, although I may be before I am done. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Health and the rest of us will do the best we can in this matter. Perhaps I may say here that right hon. Gentlemen opposite seemed to have become rather bolder with every day which separates them from the holding of the offices which they formerly held. They are developing great vigour on that Bench, as compared with the vigour which they seemed to manifest elsewhere in earlier days. However, I entirely agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman that the release of doctors from the Armed Forces is a matter which must command urgent attention, which, indeed, it has already had from the Government.
With regard to a National Health Service, it is the intention of the Government to proceed with the scheme, and introduce the necessary legislation during the present Session of Parliament. I do not want to go into the argument which has taken place between the Lord Privy Seal and the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for North Croydon with regard to the negotiations. I would only say this: that I gather it is agreed that, in the course of the discussions, material departures from the White Paper in a number of respects were contemplated. I feel that it might have been a good thing, the White Paper having been issued by the Coalition Government before the break up, if the Caretaker Government, having, apparently, modified some of those proposals in material particulars, had either issued a further White Paper or made clear what were the modifications in the policy contained in the White Paper as it was published. I think it might have been better from the point of view of the electorate knowing where the parties stood on the matter if that had been done. However, I can assure hon. Members opposite that the scheme is going forward, and that we intend to introduce legislation this Session.
I think everybody, on both sides of the House, appreciates the tone and the ability of the speeches which have been made. I should say that we could all agree that this has been one of the best Debates on the Address that has ever taken place. It has been remarkable for the high proportion of new Members who have made maiden speeches, and I think it can be said that on both sides of the House those maiden speeches have maintained a high standard, and that we have all enjoyed listening to them. It has so happened to-day that all the maiden speeches have been made from this side of the House, by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Merioneth (Squadron-Leader Emrys Roberts), my hon. Friend the Member for South Leeds (Mr. Gaitskell)—who made a speech of great interest which I am sorry I did not have the opportunity of hearing myself—my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton (Mr. J. Lewis), my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Kenyon) and, finally, my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Mr. Palmer). Much has been said on both sides with which we can all agree. I was surprised to find myself—as, I think, we all were—in particular agreement with the statement which was made by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Hornsey on Thursday when he said, in describing and summarising the task which faces His Majesty's Government and Parliament:
The great task in the economic field to-day is to reconcile economic security and planning on the one hand with individual liberty on the other. I believe we here in Westminster are fitted above every other country, to carry out experiments in that direction and to find the solution for them. These are the real tasks which face His Majesty's Government in the next four years, and it is upon the solution of those tasks that their record will be judged."—[Official Report, 16th August, 1945; Vol. 413, c. 127.]
I do not dissent one word from that statement. It will be a peculiar and outstanding contribution of British genius to political science and administration if it shows the world that a planned economy and an organised industry for the national good are reconcilable with political democracy and individual liberty. Anyway, let us try. If we do that we shall have taught the world a lesson which, in these times, it is well that the world should learn. So I wish to pay my tribute to the quality of the contributions to the Debate on both sides of the House. Youth, Service experience and the representative character of the spokesmen have been particularly marked, and I believe that this Parliament will be a good instrument for the great tasks which lie before us.
Certain matters have been raised which I had better refer to straight away, before going on to the main argument with which I am to-night concerned. There were questions about man power and my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal said that it would be arranged for a Member of the Government to make a statement this week. It is, I think as the House will agree, best that this statement should be made by the Minister who is primarily concerned, and arrangements have therefore been made for my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour to make a statement on manpower at the end of questions on Thursday. It was inevitable that there should be references to the policy of the Government on the public ownership of the Bank of England, and references to it were made by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition the other day, and, to-day, by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton). I am bound to say that there has been a great change in the attitude of the leaders of the Conservative Party to this proposal, since the electorate made it clear that it wanted it carried through. The Leader of the Opposition, the other day was, I think, eminently reasonable, if I may say so, about the proposal and took a balanced and reasonable view about it. He said:
It is by results, as the hon. and gallant Gentleman who moved the Motion for the Address said, that the Government will be judged, and it is by results that this policy must be judged. The national ownership of the Bank of England does not in my opinion raise any matter of principle. I give you my
opinion—anybody else may give his own. There are important examples in the United States and in our Dominions of central banking institutions, but what matters is the use to be made of this public ownership. On this we must await the detailed statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer who, I am glad to say, has pledged himself to resist inflation. Meanwhile, it may be helpful for me to express the opinion, as Leader of the Opposition, that foreign countries need not be alarmed by the language of the Gracious Speech on this subject, and that British credit will be resolutely upheld."—[Official Report, 16th August, 1945; Vol. 413, c. 94.]
I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman, and I very much appreciate the public-spirited conclusion of that passage. As I shall show, it is in rather marked contrast with some of the observations made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aldershot this afternoon. I cannot but marvel at the change that has taken place in the attitude of the Leader of the Opposition in that statement as compared with what he said in one of the broadcasts which he delivered to the nation during the Election. In his broadcast of Monday, 4th June, the right hon. Gentleman said this, which is a very different statement:
Our present opponents, or assailants, would be, I am sure, knowing many of them, shocked to see where they are going, and where they are trying to lead us. So they adopt temporary expedients. They say, let us just nationalise anything we can get hold of according to the size of our majority and get the Bank of England into the hands of trustworthy Socialist politicians, and we will go ahead and see what happens next. Indeed you would see what happens next. But let me tell you that once the Socialist Government begins monk eying with the credit of Britain and trying, without regard to facts, figures, or confidence, to manipulate it to Socialist requirements, there is no man or woman in this country who has, by thrift or toil, accumulated a nest-egg, however small, who will not run the risk of seeing it shrivel before their eyes.
We are all capable of changing our position, but I am bound to say that within such a short period I have never seen so complete and, let me add, welcome a switch as that from the statement in the broadcast to the statement he has made in this House. No one will be more delighted than I, if this means that the Conservative Party steadily and slowly, and even rapidly, is rising to the high sense of responsibility and balanced judgment which was manifested by the British electorate in the General Election.
The right hon. Gentleman must really learn to take the come and go of debate. I wish, without presumption, to express my warm appreciation of the attitude of the right hon. Gentleman, but he must not take it amiss if, from time to time, he is reminded of some of these broadcast observations—it is inevitable. I think the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aldershot showed a less patriotic attitude. I had to make an observation during his speech that I thought some of his utterances on the attitude of the U.S. towards our general policy were mischievous, and I think they were. I do not think they were calculated to be helpful. He said in the course of his observations—I think I have got the words correctly but this, at any rate, was the effect: "If we want the United States to be helpful, we had better be careful about private enterprise." And he referred to—this was also about private enterprise—"figure skating on the thin ice of international confidence." Nothing could be worse for the relationships of this country and the United States than that either the Governments or Congress or Parliament should appeal to be entering into the internal economic affairs of the other country. I am perfectly sure that neither the administration of the United States nor Congress would presume in any way to seek to control, or dictate, to this Parliament, or this Government, on economic policy.
The country has made a pronouncement on policy, and this Government will act in accordance with the will of the nation expressed in the General Election. We understand perfectly well that there are differences of outlook between the two countries—that our institutions work differently, and that the economic thought of the two countries is different—but if the right hon. and gallant Member for Alder-shot suggests that if we do not mind our P's and Q's we shall earn dislike in the United States, then I think his was an unjustifiable observation that had better not have been made. [Hon. Members: "Why?"] It is too much like encouragement of the view that the internal affairs of this country, its politics and its economic policy are going to be influenced or determined by conscious action from outside. I am perfectly sure that nothing of the kind would be true, and I am perfectly sure that this country and that great country, the United States, with their differences in policy and outlook, are most anxious to co-operate together for their own good and the good of the world. The right hon. Gentleman referred to a number of other matters including the manufacture of electrical apparatus.
If I may say so, I entirely agree with him. There is a field for consideration there which is not unconnected with the future organisation of the British electricity supply industry. What is quite clear is that electrical manufacturers cannot do their best with the numerous standards of voltages and frequencies which have been a nuisance to them for years past.
Coming to more general matters, the House has, I think, shown its sense of the urgency and difficulty of the problems that face us, some of which have been made the more difficult for the time being because of the happily and unexpectedly early end of the Japanese war. There has, so to speak, been a sudden outbreak of peace, which has presented us with urgent economic problems somewhat different from those we would have faced if that war had lasted longer. I am no pessimist, and I am confident not only that we can pull through, but I believe that, with care and determination, we can pull through the period of transition from war to peace triumphantly. I do, however, suggest that it is essential that Parliament and the nation should clearly face the facts which are involved in this transition.
There are, I suggest, six major economic problems in the immediate economic period which now faces the nation. There is, first of all, the difficult and serious problem of man-power. It is still the case, and it will still be the case for some time to come, that there is and will be a general overall shortage, and the total demand on our resources in man-power is such that this shortage must inevitably continue for some time to come, but, side by side with that, there is the problem of re-conversion and the consequent possibility of unemployment. The early ending of the Japanese war necessitates a far speedier re-conversion of our economy than was required, I think, in any single year of the actual mobilisation for war of our military and economic effort, great as that mobilisation was. One consequence will be that, in the process, there will be inevitable pockets of unemployment which will involve us in difficulties, and these pockets of unemployment will recur from time to time and will crop up here and there side by side with the general overall shortage of man-power during this limited period of transition.
As has been quite rightly said by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aldershot and others, our overseas economic situation, as has been realised in all parts of the House is both grave and difficult, and let us not underestimate it. We have very large sterling debts accumulated during the war. We are, even at this time, and it has, of course, been so for most of the war, very far from paying our way. We must, therefore, give a high priority to exports and we must economise—I quite agree with the right hon. Gentleman—in imports as much as we reasonably can to save foreign exchange, even when overseas supplies are available for purchase. All this will inevitably necessitate a continued, and, possibly, in some respects, an intensified, austerity in consumption, though the Government will be on the lookout to introduce elements of variety which will, we hope, help the country to tolerate the necessary restriction of consumption that must arise. We are faced with the need for increasing our exports as far as possible, and not less with the need for keeping down our imports to the minimum necessary for our internal economy.
Next, there is a grave world food shortage. It arises from difficulties of production and transport in various parts of the world, and from an increase in demand partly as the result of the liberation of various European countries. The problem of relieving our friends, the victims of Japanese aggression, in the Far East, has also arisen, and will mean an additional tax on the food supplies of the world. If widespread starvation is to be avoided there and in Europe the strain upon the limited and hard-pressed food supplies of the world will be very great, and, consequently, it will take longer to restore our own standards as we would wish. There is, moreover, a serious coal shortage here, and throughout Europe. It is among the major obstacles to economic rehabilitation here and on the Continent.
In these circumstances some domestic shortage is inevitable and will continue for the time being. There is another aspect which also must be kept in mind, and it is important. With purchasing power plentiful, on the one hand—and it is more plentiful than it was before the war—and the demands of consumers high on the other, there is a risk of serious inflation unless sufficient controls are maintained to prevent excessive inflation arising. I am perfectly certain that, if the policy of scattering controls that was advocated in many quarters had been approved by the country, and carried out by a Government, we could not have avoided drifting into inflation and into a temporary boom followed by a depression and collapse like those which succeeded the temporary boom after the last war. Therefore, in the view of the Government, controls must be maintained wherever it is appropriate. A general inflation, like that which took place after the war of 1914–18, would inevitably lead to serious economic collapse, and the Government are determined not to allow history to repeat itself. I think one of the decisions of the electorate firmly and undoubtedly was that they were not going to have 1918 all over again.
That is the sad side, the factual side of the picture with which we are faced, but it is worth while going through this difficult period—this first period of transition—in straightened circumstances, even with some austerity, even if it means that we shall not get many things which we like. It is worth while going through this first period with care, order and system, and then developing and expanding and building up afterwards, far better than to have an artificial" Piccadilly Circus," "Brighter London" sort of boom, for about 18 months and then a smash and collapse afterwards. That is the view we take, and I am appealing to the nation, and the Government appeals to the nation, as I hope Parliament does, to realise that we have got to maintain during this complicated and difficult period of transition the same high level of public spirit, order, system, and, if need be, discipline, as carried us with success through the European war.
If we conform to that spirit during this first period of transition, then we shall be in a far better position to develop, expand and have a better time in the months thereafter. Therefore, it is not the case that, as the poet said, "There is a good time coming, though you'll never live to see it." The real thing is that the good time can only come if we restrain ourselves and discipline ourselves in public spirit during this first period of transition.
Thereafter what is the problem? What is the fundamental economic problem? During the Election speeches were made by the Opposition leaders and others promising all sorts of extensions of the social services at great cost. I am not complaining about that, because we wish the same thing and perhaps a little more so, but it is no good promising bold and dashing experiments in the development of the social services—[Laughter]—unless at the same time we make provision in the economic and industrial life of the nation, whereby these developments in the social services can be carried out. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] I think the laughter was a little premature and the cheers are very welcome. It is all a question of keeping production marching with consumption, and, let me add, keeping consumption marching with production. If, as I believe, production is to go up, the old doctrine—which obtains sometimes on both sides of industry in periods of slump—that slumps can only be cured by the economics of scarcity, by producing less, by making restrictive covenants among the producers—is wrong. That is a suicidal economic policy. It is not the way in which to build a prosperous nation.
Therefore, our outlook is that we want production to advance, and at no time is that going to be more important than in this period of transition, especially at the beginning. Let us produce all we can, but if production advances, and we take no steps to see that the power of consuming the increased production does not advance with it, all we shall get is so-called over-production again. If the Opposition had been able to pursue their policy of increasing by many millions a year expenditure on the social services—whether the cost fell upon the Exchequer or on compulsory contributions does not much matter from this point of view—whilst at the same time flatly refusing, as they did flatly refuse, to consider public direction in the reorganisation of industry for public needs, I believe that policy would lead to a financial crisis, to another 1931. None of us want that again. [Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman is bursting to have an argument about something. I am sure he will get it, but after all he should not laugh at 1931 because it was he—[Interruption]—who after the Election referred to the Labour Government having been the victim of a world economic blizzard. I do not want another 1931, not only for political reasons but for the good of the country as well.
If the right hon. Gentleman is justified in complaining that I spoke some mitigating words after the great disaster into which his Party led out country in 1931, nobody could doubt that their incompetence and the attacks they made upon the credit of the country were a vast contributory cause, but I thought it only fair also to say that there was a world blizzard.
That is the basic economic situation as we see it. The Government's short term policy, I think, will have to move along the following lines. We shall complete the demobilisation plan in accordance with the principles and policy laid down in the document that was produced with the authority of the war Coalition by my right hon. Friend the present Foreign Secretary when he was Minister of Labour. We shall, however, seek to accelerate it within those principles, broadly speaking, as much as we can, but we are not going to make light, airy and false promises. I am serious about this, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman opposite will be serious. There are too many aching hearts on the other side of the world and in the homes of Britain for any of us to deal with this matter in a light-hearted manner. We shall act broadly within those principles, and we shall accelerate as much as we can. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour will make a statement in greater detail to the House on Thursday.
We shall keep the general fabric of essential economic controls. That issue was settled in principle and with emphasis by the electorate at the General Election; there can be no doubt that that is the wish of the country. Moreover, in the course of the war itself, it was, in our view, proved—and it can be proved now—that controls can be not merely an instrument of restriction, obstruction and petty interference, but a positive instrument of constructive national policy. It is our wish that they should be so regarded. They can be an instrument of constructive national policy for these purposes: to ensure the continuance of fair shares, for food and other necessities of life which are short; to control inflation, a vital need of the country at this time; and, thirdly, to secure quick and proper production and distribution of the things we need most. At the same time, we will relax all we can in an orderly way to encourage initiative. We want initiative. British industry wants initiative. His Majesty's Government want all the initiative from industry that is possible, and plenty of initiative within the Government, which, I assure the House, will be forthcoming. We do not want controls for their own sake. We never did. We do not want controls for their own sake now. We shall set first the national priorities of housing, coal, and the maximum practicable production of civilian goods for the home and the export markets. Those are the principles of the short term economic policy in accordance with which His Majesty's Government will move.
Now I come to what I hope is the rather more cheerful subject of the long term policy of the present administration in the field of economics. We do not intend to live from hand to mouth and from day to day. Our short term policy will be part and parcel of a wider long-term policy, a necessary pre-requisite of that policy with a free and prosperous Britain in view, but which can only succeed if the grim times immediately ahead are handled with both realism and restraint, and in the spirit which carried us through to victory in the war. Looking at the longer term policies these seem to be the essential fundamentals on which we should move. On employment policy, the total national expenditure must be shaped ahead so as to prevent us on the one hand from engaging in excessive expenditure leading to inflation and, on the other, from deficient expenditure leading to depression and mass unemployment. We shall study the White Paper proposals, many of which were of considerable value. It was necessarily a compromise document, and in so far as the White Paper proposals on full employment are inadequate we shall not hesitate to provide whatever additional instruments are necessary to attain full employment.
Secondly, we shall promote social security. We shall go ahead with an effective social security programme to safeguard the British people from want, if, through no fault of their own, they are in need as a result of sickness, injury, infirmity, or economic or industrial hazards. We shall not do this merely in order to put food into the mouths of people who are destitute. That is certainly part of our national duty to the country, but there is more in the social services than feeding the hungry and bringing the doctor to the sick, much more. We are certain that proper development and proper management can themselves provide an instrument to prevent the worst economic results of unemployment. They can be among the instruments of full employment, wisely administered and well managed.
The Coalition Government—and this brings me to another aspect of the matter—did make progress with social reform, general employment policy, and demobilisation. That is very true, and a high measure of agreement resulted which, I think, was to the credit of all those concerned. Where the war Coalition failed—and it was one of the reasons it was no good continuing the Government for the then uncertain period of the Japanese war—was that whilst we could agree to an extraordinary degree on such matters as the Education Bill, and the White Papers on social policy, we could not agree when we came to land, economic control and the direction of industry, and to the field of Socialisation and economics. That Government made no decision—I am not complaining, I am merely stating a fact—of real significance in the field of industry, economics, land or agriculture. We could not agree. Now we who form the Government can agree. We can agree on the basis of the policy we put before our fellow citizens at the Election.
Therefore, in addition to these other things I have mentioned, we shall proceed to measures for the proper use of the land and the proper organisation of industry, on which matters, in my judgment, it could not be helped that the war Coalition Government failed to agree. But the consequence is that we are now facing many problems which it is most unfortunate that that Government could not bring before Parliament before the war was over. We will see that the land is used in such a way that in town and countryside alike it serves the best interests of the community. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Town and Country Planning is busy straightening out the somewhat tangled situation he found in his Ministry when he took over. We shall open an appropriate field, which we have stated to the nation, carry through a policy of Socialisation, and we shall stimulate the organisation of industry. Some of our industries are in a very bad way, and they have got to be put right. We intend to overhaul British industry and pull it together.
There are basic industries in this country that are no credit to the people who run them. In agriculture we shall have a policy of vigour, a policy giving security to the farmer as long as there is enterprise, and a fair deal not only for the farmer but also for the agricultural workers. Where necessary we shall socialise, but we are determined that both in publicly or privately owned industries efficiency must be the test and efficiency must be developed to the utmost. Where we socialise, fair and proper compensation will be paid. Lastly, as we go along—and we shall have powers under the Supplies and Services Bill and otherwise—we shall stop harmful restrictive practices which prevent the most effective use of the country's resources.
In all this there is no real threat to civil liberty or the real freedom of the individual. On the contrary, the liberty and the real freedom of millions of His Majesty's subjects have been circumscribed and shamefully limited over long years by the economic imperfections of our industrial organisation and sometimes by the tyrannical use of economic power. All this development and economic change, the emergence of a nation which is for the first time the master and not the victim of its industrial resources, spell emancipation in many ways and a higher standard of liberty than they have ever enjoyed before for millions of our fellow citizens. So we go forward in the building, as we hope and believe—of a Britain that is free, democratic, efficient, progressive, public spirited, a Britain whose material resources are organised in the service of the British people.
That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, as followeth":
Most Gracious Sovereign,
We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.