Orders of the Day — Supplies and Services (Transitional Powers) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 8th August 1947.

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Photo of Mr Herbert Hughes Mr Herbert Hughes , Wolverhampton West 12:00 am, 8th August 1947

1931? Precisely. It is now becoming quite clear that the policy of the Conservative Party, as in 1931, is to make the cuts at the end where the people have the least margin to be cut. They would go not for the people whose incomes are eight times the size of those at the lower end, but for family allowances and even—if we take the right hon. Member for the Scottish Universities—for the old age pensions. The only solution that has not been put forward which was operated in 1931 is the means test cut on the unemployed, and the only reason why that solution has not been put forward is that at the moment the unemployment figure is at its lowest ebb for many years.

As my hon. Friend the Member for East Coventry (Mr. Crossman) has said, our movement welcomes this Bill. We welcome particularly the Clause which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) chose so strongly to attack. We believe, and the Labour Movement believes, that the whole resources of the community should be made available for use, and we believe that they should be used in a manner best calculated to serve the interests of the community. We do not expect the Conservative Party or even the Liberal Party to share that view. But those are the principles this movement put before the country at the General Election, and those are the principles which we intend to carry out. When we are asked, "Why did the Government not just come forward with some small legalistic Measure?" the answer is that the best tonic we can give to the engineers in the factories of Wolverhampton, to the miners in the pits, and to the other essential workers all over the country, is a gesture of this kind, which will show them that if sacrifices have to be made, they are going to be made in proportion to the ability of the various sections of the community to stand those sacrifices.

I wish to refer to a few of the things which I hope the Government will do in using the powers they are given by this Bill. The hon. Member for Monmouth said that in many respects the planning that has been carried out in this country in the last two years has not been wholly successful, and from that I would not dissent. But as he himself asks, the problem is, "How do you go on to cure those defects? Do you go back to less planning, or do you go forward to more?" We believe that the solution to our crisis is to go forward to more drastic planning wherever it is required in the interests of the nation. We believe that the non-essential uses of our industry and manpower have to be reduced. We believe that the kind of maldistribution of labour which has been growing up over the last few months has to be checked. We believe that it is wrong at this present time that there should be over 40,000 more workers in our entertainments and sports industries than there were in 1939, while the foundries and textile mills are crying out for labour.

We believe it is wrong that there should be a quarter of a million of people engaged at the present time in no useful work whatever, and drawing an average of £760 per annum unearned income for the work they are not doing. We believe it is wrong that there are a quarter of a million "spivs" in this country. Unlike the Conservative Party, and unlike the Liberal Party, we are prepared to take the necessary measures to deal with that situation, even though it means going back to direction of labour, which is not a thing the Labour movement would stand for, if it could possibly be avoided. The safeguards to the individual liberties of the workers of this country rest not upon the Conservative Party, but with the trade union movement which represents them, and which will be prepared to see that the powers the Government possess are used with discretion, and not more than is absolutely necessary. We believe there has to be a limited direction of labour, and we would be prepared, if it is necessary to control the people who do not appear at the Labour Exchanges, for a national census to find out where the idle hands are at the present time.

As has been said in the Debate in the last two days, we believe that the incentive to the workers in our factories has not merely to be an economic one. That is why I, representing an engineering constituency, welcomed the remarks of the Prime Minister about the need for a vast extension of joint production committees. We have heard a lot of talk about targets. Targets on a national level do not mean a great deal to the worker in the factory. We have to get down to the position in which there is not only a target on the national level, but in which every factory has its target, and the workers are taken into full consultation with the management on the problems, difficulties, and targets which have to be broken. When we get that kind of planning—and it can be done by good management—we will get the kind of incentive and co-operation that we need at present in our industry.

We have to transfer more of our materials for export, and that means that we have to go without many things at home. My hon. Friend the Member for East Coventry referred to the motor car industry. We have to step up the proportion of the output of the motor car industry that goes for export, and to do that we have to cut down the amount available at home. In my view it was a backward step when the Government scrapped their old scheme for the allocation of motor cars, so that today essential workers needing motor cars are unable to get them, whereas those who have a friend round the corner can pay their extra £100 and get away with a new motor car. That is the kind of practice to which we have to put an end.

There is no greater step that could be taken from the point of view of morale in the factories and mines than a limitation of profits and dividends. That would help with the question of inflation, but far more than that, if we are going to direct our workers into essential industries, we have to go much further than simply issuing a mild appeal to the directors not to pay 115 per cent. or 125 per cent., as one can see is being paid every day if one looks at the pages of the "Economist". We have to impose a limit of some kind on high dividends. I think that many of the measures the Government have proposed so far do not go far enough. Why do we postpone the restriction of currency allowances for foreign travel until October? Most of the money will be spent in August and September. Why not bring it in now? If we did that, we should save the £10 million we are to cut off timber which we vitally need for industrial purposes. One great use of petrol in this country at the present moment is not on the basic ration, or even in legitimate industrial uses. Thousands of gallons are going on. the side, and every one knows it. Let us take a drastic measure, and say that as in the case of Service petrol, industrial users, farm and factory users, must draw their petrol from specially earmarked pumps serving coloured petrol. If we took that kind of step, we should go some of the way towards stopping the black market which is going on at present.

The right hon. Member for Woodford compared this country with Holland and Belgium and asked why their reconstruction was going better than ours. One salient fact stands out there. Holland and Belgium have not got 707,000 men standing in uniform within their own territory. We want the Government to explain why it is necessary, to maintain an overseas force of 300,000 in March of next year, that they have to be backed up by 707,000 at home. We want a very careful and detailed examination of that proposed use of manpower.

My hon. Friend the Member for East Coventry referred to the Anglo-Soviet trade negotiations. We know that the solution of many of our economic problems could be found if we could get this country, the Dominions and Western and Eastern Europe working together, and a great effort has been made to reach satisfactory terms with the Russians over the last few weeks. It is true that the Soviet Government have asked for pretty hard conditions, but I ask my right hon. Friends whether to close the gap that separates our proposals from those of the Russians at the present time would cost the economy of this country anything like as much as the cost which has been caused to our economy by the convertibility and non-discriminatory clauses of the American Loan Agreement? We were prepared to give a great deal away to get an American loan. I think we should be prepared to give a little more away to get an Anglo-Soviet agreement.

Finally, this country is ready and waiting for a strong lead. The workers in the factories and in the mines are prepared to work harder, to accept all the sacrifices which the Government have asked them to accept. They are prepared to accept these for the sake of our national reconstruction, as they accepted them during the war, but they ask one condition—that, if sacrifices are going to be asked of the workers, they shall be asked of the higher income groups as well. Therefore, we must have in the operation of this Bill firm measures to deal with the black market, we must have equality of sacrifice, and, by that, we will get that will to work which will pull this country out of the economic crisis. It is clear that the alternative is to go back to the kind of cuts which were imposed in 1931. That might provide a temporary economic palliative, but it would divide this country more deeply than it has been divided in the past 10 years, and, if that is the only alternative the Opposition have to offer, it is clear that they have failed to begin to understand what is necessary to get this country on its feet again.