Orders of the Day — Economic Affairs (Manpower)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 28th February 1946.

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Photo of Lieut-Colonel Sir Walter Smiles Lieut-Colonel Sir Walter Smiles , Down 12:00 am, 28th February 1946

It gives me particular pleasure to speak now and to congratulate the hon. Gentleman the Member for Warrington (Mr. E. Porter), who, I am happy to say, is an old friend of mine whom I have often heard speak on previous occasions in the Blackburn Town Council and at social functions. The speech he has just delivered was extremely interesting and I, for one, have profited from it because until now I never knew that the meat prices in this country were controlled by only four people. What he said about the holiday camp was also interesting, but I would think that whoever bought that holiday camp would have to pay higher wages to his painters and to the people who work in the camp, and that, as wages go up, every hotel and holiday camp has to raise its prices. I know that all hon. Members will be very glad to hear the hon. Gentleman speak on many more occasions. I look forward to listening to him.

The speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Lord President of the Council was very interesting, and I think he was very clever in the way he put forward everything of which he could speake favourably and avoided the most dangerous subject, which is coal. That, of course, is the advantage the right hon. Gentleman has from his long experience in public life. One point he raised was about the Stirling aircraft. I believe Stirlings were actually produced in Belfast up to the beginning of 1945—the right hon. and learned Gentleman who is now the President of the Board of Trade will have these facts at his fingers ends—and that it was decided that the Stirling was no good as a bomber but would be used as a transport plane. The contract was given, I believe, by the Coalition Government and not by the present Government. The only point I have to raise is that 40 per cent. of the capital of Short and Harland in Belfast is owned by the Government and 60 per cent. by Harland amp; Wolff. There are very few contracts coming their way at the present time and very few aeroplanes in the world for passenger traffic. I would like to hear that a good contract is to be given to Short amp; Harland, who have the men trained and the jigs available to make good passenger aircraft.

I do not look upon this Debate as really a party matter. We would all like to see the whole country prosper, and it does not matter who gets the credit if some good is done. In any case, I have sufficient confidence in the astuteness of the party opposite to know that, if any good is done, they will take the credit anyway. But some good Tory speeches were made from the opposite Benches. They might easily have been made by an early Victorian father addressing a family of young sons—" Work hard, save your money, be kind to Granny and the cat, and all will go well." I think that after seven years of war there is a sort of sales resistance put up against too many speeches about "We are going to have pie in the sky very soon." People now get too many of these "pep-up" speeches on the radio and they just switch over to something else. I believe that it is just as possible to get indigestion from over eloquence as from over feeding, although it is difficult to do much over feeding at the present moment.

The hon. and gallant Member for Lichfield (Major Poole) also said some things with which I agree. He said he had no use for this austerity, and no more have I. I believe the people have worked hard for seven years and that now we should give them a bit of fun, an incentive to work. I know that in Russia they have different incentives. The man who drives in so many thousand rivets in a week is feted all round Moscow and Leningrad. I do not know whether the trade unions here would agree to such a procedure, but I have heard a good deal of congratulation to Russia from the opposite Benches in my time.

Why do people work? In the last war they worked out of patriotism. Some work because of vanity, or conscience, or boredom. Most of us work to get some good food inside us, a warm fire, a comfortable home, and a bit of fun at the weekend. This may take a different form, a football match for a man, or to dress up smartly for a woman, but. at any rate hard work and thrift do not automatically ensure these things nowadays.

There are lots of employers racking their brains for ways and means to give their workpeople the incentive to work. Nowadays some employees work hard for three, four, or five weeks, and then take a week off at the expense of the Government in the form of the return of their Income Tax. I heard only the other day of an employer who wanted his secretary to work a few hours later in the evening out of zeal for the export drive. The young lady said, "What is the good of my working this evening? I shall only get about is. 6d. or 2s. out of it." Her employer replied, "I want you to stay very badly tonight. I suggest that you work on these letters tonight free, and tomorrow night I will take you out to a theatre, give you a good dinner at a restaurant, and we can dance together."

The fact that the young lady was attractive was no great handicap. The worst of it was that some friend of his wife saw them and—I will not say "the fat was in the fire," because nobody today gets any fat and very few people have a fire—but at any rate there was considerable trouble, and it just shows the lengths to which people will go now to help the country in its export drive.

What hon. Members opposite are afraid of is a financial crisis abroad; we may as well face it. I believe there was a time in 1940 when the pound note was worth only 2s.6d. in Portugal. We must have lots Of raw materials from abroad— timber, oil, tobacco, cotton, and one of these days we shall have to import coal. Foreigners who hold huge credit balances of sterling may get tired of this sterling; they may think it is only good to paper their rooms with, and it is up to us in this country to prove that sterling is sterling and that the phrase "as good as a pound note "is still true. The hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon-Walker) was a great advocate yesterday of unbalanced budgets. Indeed, from his speech I made out that the more unbalanced the budgets were, the better for us all. I thought it was a sort of Social Credit speech which, up to date, has not been proved even by Major Douglas in Alberta. I do not agree with that doctrine, that the more you unbalance your budget the more work there will be in this country.:

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton) raised the question yesterday of getting some of the markets and exchanges in London for cotton, base metals, etc., going again and I heartily support him, especially in regard to the market for rubber. We used to have sales of rubber every week in this country and it was one of our best exports to the United States of America. Now rubber is a commodity, which, when manufactured, increases about 20 to 30times in value over the raw material. We here, and people abroad, want hot water bottles, tyres— cycle, motor and aeroplane— and there is much good business to be done. We also want golf balls, and I have found out to my cost that the synthetic ball goes about 25 yards less than the natural golf ball we had before the war. I understand that the President of the Board of Trade has made a deal over rubber, and from the figures given by his Ministry I see that 66,000 tons went to the United States, 16,000 tons to Soviet Russia, and only 8,000 tons came here. With regard to price, we have only got from the United States of America is. a lb. for the rubber produced in Malaya and Burma. I believe that if that went on the open market we would get 2s. 6d.or3s.a lb. I know that the right hon. and learned Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade is a generous, big-hearted man in all that he does, but I see no reason why he should be generous and big-hearted with other people's property, especially with the rubber which belongs to the British Empire.

We hear all sorts of stories about that rubber deal. Nowadays, of course, if they are wise, people believe nothing of what they hear and only half of what they see. I heard two stories about it. One is that the Americans came along and said, '' are going to want a big loan from us and unless you let us have that rubber at is. a pound, there is no loan coming for you." The other story is that when they came along to buy the rubber, they said, "If you do not let us have that natural rubber at a knockdown price, we shall put our synthetic factories into action and break the Malayan plantation rubber industry into bits." I do not believe they would break that Malayan industry so easily, and I believe that if we let the open public sales take place,.it would be better for everybody in this country.

Yesterday we heard cotton and automatic looms discussed. I remember going over to the United States about 1934 when I had the honour to be the Member for Blackburn. I saw an American factory where the Northropp automatic looms were made in Draperstown, in Rhode Island. The managing director there showed me a lot of old looms. He asked me, "Do you know what those are for?" When I said I did not, he replied, "I am going to break them up." Every time he sold a Northropp automatic loom, he got the old second hand loom and gave a good price for it to the weaving factory, and it was broken up. They told me there then that one white man and six negro boys were running 100 Northropp automatic looms. Naturally, the weavers in Lancashire strongly objected to. such things being introduced into Blackburn; in fact, there it was generally four looms per weaver, often only two looms per weaver, as most money was made on the highest quality cloth.

With regard to the engineers, who are the aristocracy of labour—as I am quite sure the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) would agree— the last time I saw figures, there were 1,500,000 people engaged on munitions, though the right hon. Gentleman the Lord President of the Council has said that those figures have been considerably reduced. I can well remember in 1935, when the Government were beginning to step up the Votes for munitions, I think it was the right hon. Gentleman himself who about that time said, when he was criticising the raising of the Votes for the Navy, the Army and the Air Force, "Who do you want to fight?" We did not want to fight anybody; all we wanted to do was to protect our own skins and to support our Allies. But I might say equally, "Who do we want to fight today?" It cannot be the United States of America for they have always been our friends, and they have a Navy five times as big as ours. I am also quite sure, with the right hon. Gentleman's party in power, it could never be Soviet Russia. So I think that the amount we are spending on munitions and equipment for the Armed Forces should be decreased very quickly.

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aldershot mentioned the Excess Profits Tax. He said it was a bad tax. It is also very hard upon our industries because in India, which now produces iron, steel, cottony jute and all sorts of manufactured articles, the Excess Profits Tax has never been more than 66⅔ per cent. during the war against our 1oo per cent. and when any competition starts again, those Indian industries will have had a considerable amount of money for re-equipment which the industries here have never been able to put by.

I would suggest that we stop some of this munition and war work and. get rid of some of the temporary non-industrial civil servants. Three or four months ago I put down a Question to the Minister of Aircraft Production asking how many non-industrial civil servants there were in his Ministry and his answer was 15,000. I hear from Harrogate that many civil servants are bored to tears and want to get back to civilian employment. In the last three months the number has hardly been reduced by 200.

I agree that we do not want to run down our industries. We want, like the American Rotarians, to give a good "ballyhoo" and say we have the best industries in the world, the best men running them and the best machinery. But we want to forget now the blood, and sweat and tears. We have all had enough of that. Let us go in for a bit of food, fuel and fun at the weekends.