Government Policy

Part of Orders of the Day — King's Speech – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 29th October 1947.

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Photo of Miss Megan Lloyd George Miss Megan Lloyd George , Anglesey 12:00 am, 29th October 1947

The House has just listened to a characteristic speech from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Arthur Greenwood), for whom Members of all parties have a high regard and respect. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) began his speech by saying that no Government had started off, with a greater amount of good will than the present Government. I think that is true, but I would like to remind the right hon. Gentleman that the measure of the good will of his party was shown by the fact that they moved a Vote of Censure within a short time of the Government coming into Office. They expected the Government to solve the immense postwar problems not in two years but in a few months.

Twice in the last six months this House has been asked to give a Vote of Confidence in the Government, and twice we have been assured by the Government and their supporters that their policy was adequate to meet the economic emergency. Yet each time that Vote of Confidence has been followed by a further and graver crisis. Each time the Government have been forced to acknowledge the inadequacy of their policy by producing another one. Tonight we shall be asked to vote once again, to express our confidence in the Government. Unfortunately, we can only judge them by their record. It is true that the Minister for Economic Affairs made a courageous and impressive speech in the Debate last week, and that it received a considerable measure of approval from men and women of good will in all parts of the House and in the country. But the right hon. and learned Gentleman has made many good speeches before. Indeed, he has been making good speeches all through this Parliament. I wish one could say the same about all his colleagues all the time.

But up to now there has been a wide gap, a gap as wide as our balance of payments, between the speeches of Ministers and the policy carried out by the Government. I will only quote two instances, among a great many. Two years ago, barely three months after the Election, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that we must save dollars to the utmost. He was quite right. He also said that we must cut down, without any delay, all imports which required dollar expenditure, and yet, in the two years following that speech, the Government allowed the tillage acreage of this country to fall by approximately one million acres. Here is another instance which I would like to quote. The Chancellor has never ceased, quite rightly, to point to the dangers of inflationary tendencies, and the right hon. Gentleman the Minister for Economic Affairs said in his speech on the White Paper in March: We cannot afford increases in wage levels-or shorter hours unless they increase productivity per man year."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th March, 1947; Vol. 434, c. 994.] Yet shorter hours have been introduced. In the five months following that speech. wage increases had been granted to 21 industries, affecting over two million workers; many of them, no doubt, thoroughly justified, many of them, no doubt, overdue, and many of them, no doubt, remedying genuine grievances, but as the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) has pointed out again and again in this House, this is not the way to stop the inflationary tendency, it is another example of the vast gap which exists between the speeches of the Government and their policy.

It will be said that everything is changed now. The right. hon and learned Gentleman the Minister for Economic Affairs is in a very much stronger position. He has greater powers. The test of the new Ministerial set-up will still be whether he is to be allowed to carry out the purpose and intentions of the speech which he made last week. That is the acid test. The right hon. and learned Gentleman pins his faith, and has always pinned his faith, to increasing exports at the temporary expense of the home market. He has always put his shirt on the export market, and, as far as I can see, he is going to put everyone else's as well. The Government have set a very high export target. They are asking industry, employers and workers to work harder and export more, but are they creating the conditions in which they can achieve that target? We are going to be faced with great difficulty in achieving that target. Every country in the world is doing, or trying to do, what we are trying to do—that is to export a great deal more and import a great deal less.

The British exporters are meeting very great difficulties. Are they to get assistance from the Government? I would like to quote some of the difficulties they are meeting. They may be successful in securing orders but their actual shipments are limited to a fragment of those orders because they are unable to obtain import licences. I have an instance here of an engineering firm, and there are many other instances, where their orders are halved, for this reason. We hope that the Government will press on with multilateral and bilateral—[Interruption.] I mean import licences from other countries. My argument is that I hope that the Government will press on with multilateral, certainly, but with bilateral agreements as well, on currency and trade so as to facilitate the position of the exporters. May I say that we on these benches welcomed the statement made at Question time today by the President of the Board of Trade in which he announced a reduction of tariffs between a number of countries. We only hope when the details are made known that the agreement will thoroughly justify our expectations. We also hope it is only a first instalment and will be followed up vigorously by the Government.

I would like to say a word about the other side of the Government's policy, the cut in imports, and, particularly, about the greatest single item of our dollar bill—food. The Government have announced a programme, a very large programme, which is designed to bring about a saving of food imports up to £100 million. That is a long-term programme, but as the Government have made it clear, this is a long-term depression. I would ask the same question here: Are the Government going to provide the farmers and agriculturalists of this country with the means to carry out that policy or is it to remain only a paper policy? The farmers, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley pointed out earlier in his speech, need tractors, and yet last year the Government allowed £4 million worth of tractors to be exported from this country. I am informed that tractors are still being exported, not in such large numbers, but they are still being exported while the home market is unsatisfied. There is also a shortage of spare parts, which means that many tractors already in the possession of farmers are completely immobilised and useless for lack of these spare parts, and have been immobilised for months. There is a need for fertilisers, particularly potash. I am informed that factories in Germany processing potash are to be dismantled. I hope that this is not the case. I should be grateful before the end of the Debate for an assurance on that point, because it is very important.

Are the farmers to have priority for the essential equipment of their industry? They need labour and they will not be able to carry out this policy unless they get it. A hundred and thirty thousand prisoners of war are to be repatriated, and we are very glad about it, but they are to be repatriated by the next harvest. Who is to replace them, and where are they to live? They are not going to be housed in camps as the prisoners of war were. Twenty-three thousand houses have been completed in the rural areas and yet, as the right hon. Gentleman pointed out, only about 1,800 have been let so far to agricultural workers. I would like to know, and I hope that we shall get information on this point, how many of the 350,000 houses now being built will, in fact, be let to agricultural workers and, in addition, what is to be the programme of special priority houses for letting to agricultural workers?