I beg to move, as an Amendment to the Address, at the end, to add:
But humbly regret that, notwithstanding the grave international situation and the continuing gap in our overseas trade, Your Majesty's Government should obstinately persist in a policy of nationalisation which has already imposed heavy burdens on consumers and taxpayers alike and is impeding the enterprise and initiative which is essential to our recovery.
Some little time ago the Lord President of the Council stated that it was up to the nationalisers to prove their case that there would be public advantage in nationalisation. No doubt that statement has been somewhat embarrassing to some of his supporters, who regard nationalisation as a remedy taken for granted and are merely concerned with the speed or the method. That is presumably why last week he was at pains to remind the House that it was up to the opponents of nationalisation to show that it was not necessary. He seemed to think that that disposed of the question and placed us in an insurmountable difficulty. I readily accept the challenge, and, indeed, the Amendment is specifically designed to do that.
Broadly speaking, there are two answers to the right hon. Gentleman's argument, one in the moral sphere, which I am bound to say I do not expect to appeal very much to hon. Members opposite. It has always hitherto been regarded as a principle of British justice that a man was not condemned until he had been proved guilty—that he, was assumed until then to be innocent. The right hon. Gentleman's attitude is rather like putting a man in the dock because one does not like his face, and then telling him that he has to advance strong reasons why he should not be hanged. That was in fact the principle which was pursued in the "people's courts" under Hitler, and it was a procedure followed with considerable success to himself by Mr. Vishinsky in an earlier office which he used to hold. Its adoption today by the right hon. Gentleman here is proof, if proof were needed, of the descent towards totalitarianism which acceptance of Socialist dogma inevitably involves.
For the purposes of our argument and Debate today I suggest that there is a much more practical answer to the right hon. Gentleman's question, namely, what is the public interest today? Surely it consists of two things, at all events in the domestic sphere. The first is the restoration of our finances from the disorder in which the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster left them last year. The second is to increase our production.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in a paper which he has just begun to circulate to industrialists, called "Bulletin for Industry," defined this task as follows:
Increased exports must do most of the work of making this country independent of outside assistance by the time foreign aid ceases. This calls in turn for increased production, and more particularly for more efficient production in the sense of reducing costs and making the best use of available man-power.
I do not think that anyone in this House would disagree with the Chancellor, and we on these benches are quite content to take the Chancellor's statement as the test of Socialist accomplishment during the last three years, and see where it leads us.
The Chancellor has recently been making reviews of our economic situation at home which have a more optimistic tinge. Recovery has indeed been noticeable, but it has been recovery from a very low level, in fact the lowest level attained under the regime of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster who, I understand, is speak to after me. The fact that we have still so far to go after all our efforts in recent months, shows clearly how low we had sunk in the days to which I have just referred. Yet the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is, if rumour has it correctly, one of the men who does not hesitate to urge on the country the nationalisation of steel.
According to the broadcast of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, we should stand on our own feet in 1952, but only— let the House remark— at the present level of imports and the present standard of living, which the Chancellor himself, in a speech or at a Press conference in America, described as being lower than it had been in 1947. That is a very different theory from the exuberant statements of some of the Chancellor's colleagues, in particular from the sort of speech which the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster used to make. Speaking two years ago, in October, he said:
A year or two hence we shall have overcome all the worst shortages of food, clothes, coal and steel, and in a large measure, I hope, of houses.
The other thing which I beg the House to note about the Chancellor's speeches, especially the one he made at the end of the short Session, and which apparently created so much enthusiasm among hon. Members opposite, and cheered them up so much— goodness knows they needed a bit of cheering at the time— was the high praise and glowing tribute paid to private enterprise. In the first edition of this "Bulletin for Industry," dated September, and regarded no doubt as a pep talk to industrialists, we find steel picked out as one of those industries which have made notable progress, together with engineering, vehicles, textiles, chemicals, etc., all of them industries run under private enterprise, all of them having achieved substantial progress despite planning. The only industry referred to in that "Bulletin for Industry" of September, in which the target had not been reached, and of which nothing good could be said, was the nationalised industry of coal.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer also sees fit from time to time to lecture industrialists on the need for better organisation in their industry. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I hear an appreciative "Hear, hear" from hon. Members opposite. I wonder if the right hon. Gentleman or they ever stop to think how much more effective, and how much more acceptable, such advice would be to the recipients and to the hearers if they saw any evidence of his advice being addressed to or paid attention to by any of the right hon. Gentlemen who are his colleagues on the Front Bench?
How would it be for him to probe, for example, into the administration of the nationalised industries, or, indeed, for that matter, into the administration of their Departments by some of the right hon. Gentleman on those Benches? What a wide field he would find for reforms which would not only alleviate his financial problems as Chancellor of the Exchequer but would also help the work of the Minister of Labour in his search for manpower and, by reducing the cost of some of the fundamentals of industry such as coal and electricity, would undoubtedly help manufacturers to reach more quickly the target which the Chancellor has set them. Dare I suggest coal as one of the first subjects of inquiry so far as nationalised industries are concerned? Or the administration, so far as the Government Departments are concerned, of the Minister of Health?
We have now had two years of nationalised coal, or very nearly two years. I wonder if the Lord President or the Chancellor of the Exchequer is particularly pleased with the result so far? We had a target set for coal last year, a target of 200 million, a target in itself for this year of 25 million tons below what the T.U.C. said then would have been a reasonable target for a year ago. And even that target is not going to be reached. If we look at labour relations, what about the myth that a man would work very much harder and more willingly for the nation than for private enterprise? I commend anyone who still believes that to read the report of the National Coal Board for 1947. They have a deplorable story to tell. It is ironic, to say the least of it, that their action in instituting the five-day week should have cost the nation, in the loss of output from strikes on that very subject, 800,000 tons of coal, and, at the end of two years of national administration, that between the beginning of this year and October we should still be losing three-quarters of a million tons by disputes.
I am not talking about what happened in 1926. I am sorry if I have not made myself clear, but I am endeavouring to apply the Chancellor's test of efficiency to the industries that have already been nationalised and that is what we are mainly concerned with.
What about absenteeism and output? I refer again to the Chancellor's paper for October and I find there, under coal the statement:
Output per man shift, though greater than last year, has not improved since the beginning of the year. Absenteeism has been increasing in recent months and is greater than in the corresponding period last year.
It so happens that immediately following that particular paragraph on coal this bulletin refers to steel:
The output of steel ingots and castings recovered quickly from the effects of the holidays.
This is October:
The September average was 296,800 tons a week, equivalent to nearly 15½ million tons a year, compared with the target for the year of 14½ million.
But if we look at the paragraph on coal we find that the target for September was 4.2 million tons a week and the coal industry reached an output of only 3.8 million tons a week. Yet we are told that the coal industry is such a success as a nationalised industry that the experiment ought to be tried again with steel. How very much stronger would be the position of the right hon. Gentleman and his friends when they come to discuss this in a few weeks' time if the figures were reversed, and if they were able to point to coal having exceeded its target and steel having failed to reach it.
The House will remember that the Chancellor said that one of the targets that industry ought to set itself was the reduction of costs. What about costs in coalmining? In 1939 the pithead cost of coal was 17s. 11d. per ton. At the end of 1946, at the end of private enterprise, it was 39s. 4d. At the end of 1947 it had risen to 43s. 8d. and in mid-1948 it had risen to 47s. 1d. There is not much sign there of a reduction in costs as the result of more efficient administration. The Coal Board Report shows that for 1947 on coal, apart from ancillaries, the loss was £9 million. That is apart from the amount of £12 million required for the interim income payment. The Board themselves point out that that figure of £12 million was only half the normal profit being made by private enterprise when the mines were under private ownership. Therefore, the true comparison ought to be between the loss under the Coal Board of £9 million and the profit under private enterprise of £24 million.
There was a great flourish of trumpets a short while ago on the part of the authorities of the coal industry, including the Minister. They said, "It is true we made a loss in the first year, but as a matter of fact now we are making a small profit." If one applies the tests which the Chancellor suggests are good enough for private industry to what happens with coal, one notes that that so-called profit was not the result of reducing costs. The only reason for the so-called profit was that in the interim they substantially increased the selling price of coal. We are told also that they broke even on the second quarter, but I should like the right hon. Gentleman to tell us what is the position for the third quarter. Are they still running a profit or has that small profit disappeared and been converted into a loss?
Then we have the whole question of organisation. Again I emphasise that the Chancellor says that private industries should take steps to improve their organisation. We have had the Burrows Report. We are told that that report is to be published in a short while. I am glad to hear it. But what we on these Benches should like to have and we see no reason why we should not have it, is not only the final conclusion of the Burrows Committee but the evidence which was submitted to that Committee. The coal industry now belongs to the nation and the nation has a right to know what is being done with its property. There is no conceivable reason why this House should not be given the full evidence that was submitted to the Burrows Committee. I can quite understand the reluctance to provide it. I do not suppose we shall be given it. I expect we shall be told that it would be against the public interest for it to be revealed. The real reason is that if it was published, this House and the nation would have overwhelming evidence of the bad administration in the first instance of the National Coal Board's set-up.
I do not want to detain the House by going into the details of the other nationalised industries; but if we take civil aviation we find the same story. There was a loss of £10 million in 1946–47. The loss for 1947–48 has not yet been announced, but it has been indicated by the Government that it will amount to £11 million. It is certain that for 1948–49 the loss will not be kept within the advertised subsidy figure of £8 million. It would perhaps be unfair to ask for full details about the results of the nationalisation of electricity, because that has taken place only comparatively recently. However, all the indications one can get are to the effect that the inevitable difficulties of nationalisation are already making themselves felt. We have the usual proliferation of committees set up. Indeed, I was told of the case of an employee who normally under private enterprise used to go to his immediate superior and have a discussion for a matter of 10 or 15 minutes and then get a decision. Now he must submit his proposals to a committee and, believe it or not, he must submit 90 copies because of the number of members of the various committees to whom his proposals must go before they are finally considered. There is a slowing down of decisions. There is an increase in administrative headquarters staff and, of course, there is the usual addition of luxurious offices and so forth. Certainly, there are no signs of even the beginning of the advantages that it was alleged would accrue from that.
I note that the Minister of Transport is present. We have not yet heard the results of the first year's working of the nationalisation of railways but, if reports are true, current revenues are insufficient to meet current operating costs, quite apart from any sums required to pay interest on the moneys borrowed from the Chancellor of the Exchequer. So much for nationalised industries. I suggest that they do not come very well out of the tests that the Chancellor suggested should be applied.
Before I leave this subject, I will give one example of the result, from my own constituency, because it represents in microcosm the results of nationalisation. I refer to the Fire Service. The cost of the Fire Service in Southport in 1938–39 which fell on the rates was £2,813. The cost this year is £18,650. The consumers, the ratepayers, are obviously suffering. The cost to the taxpayer in 1938 was nil. The cost to the Exchequer this year is £6,219. The cost to the rates has gone up from ¾d. in the £ to 4¾4d. in the £. Then there is the question of the Minister of Labour and manpower. In 1.939 Southport Fire Service was manned by 18 part-time men regarded as equivalent to four full-time men.
I will come to that. At Southport there were 18 part-time men who were regarded as the equivalent of four full-time men. Today there are 41 full-time men, one typist and 18 part-time men. The fire risk at Southport is exactly the same as it was before. It is a fact, I believe, that the total Fire Service of Southport is substantially greater than that in many adjoining Lancashire industrial towns where the fire risk is very much greater.
Our Amendment refers to frustration. There is not one manufacturer and not one workman living in Southport who works either in Liverpool, Manchester or anywhere else, who is not aware of this sort of thing. I made representations to the Home Secretary and I got no change out of him. I wrote to the Minister of Labour thinking that he at least would be interested in view of his appeals for manpower and his continuous statements that we are so short of men. I thought that at least he would be interested in seeing that these 41 men were put to some useful work instead of kicking their heels in idleness at Southport and becoming thoroughly bored and demoralised. What was his answer? It was:
As regards the Fire Service, this, of course, is primarily the concern of the Home Secretary. As I understand the matter, the standards of manning now being adopted at Southport were recommended by the Central Fire Brigades Advisory Council appointed under the Act.
That is all.
Similar cases could be mentioned. There is the case of the waste involved by the Ministry of Transport in keeping a ship with 40 men on board lying for months in Southampton Water doing nothing. When it is suggested that the number of men was excessive, the Minister of Transport hides behind the authority of the captain and says that the captain of the ship thought that this was the minimum necessary. I dare say it was, but no Minister who really had the interests of the situation at heart and who really believed that manpower was short would have allowed either the men on that ship or the Ten in the Fire Service at Southport to spend the whole of the Summer in idleness.
Let us deal next with the administration of His Majesty's Ministers. We will take housing as an example. The Minister of Health is going about the country saying that he has now built 750,000 separate houses and broken the back of the housing problem. I wonder how many people listening to these speeches and reading the figure of 750,000 appreciate what that figure consists of. I wonder how many realise that of the total 30,000 are requisitioned houses, 130,000 were houses damaged during the war and since repaired, 100,000 were created by sub-dividing existing houses and 25,000-odd consist of temporary huts in Service camps. Of the balance 155,000 are temporary houses whose life is only 10 years: they are houses which the Minister of Health before he took office used to jeer at and call steel boxes.
I am concerned with the administration of the Minister of Health in his Department. He has no right to delude the public into thinking that he has in fact built 750,000 new houses.—[HON. MEMBERS: "He has not said so."] —when he has had to pad the figures by the means I have described. Then he says that he has broken the back of the housing problem. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Nobody can deny that he has said that. He has said it repeatedly. I say that far from having broken the back of the housing problem he has not yet built enough houses since he took office to take care of the ordinary wastage of houses through the process of their having reached the end of their natural useful life. I would much sooner take the figures given by Mr. Coppock, who said only the other day that the real need for houses at present was three million.
In the course of achieving this miserable target, the Minister has completely disorganised the industry. He has not only completely disorganised the industry, but he has enormously inflated the cost of houses, and, if any one has any doubt on the subject, I recommend him to read the Report of the Girtwood Committee on the costs of housing which was appointed by the right hon. Gentleman himself. The Minister attacks the building industry and the men engaged in it for low productivity, whereas the Girtwood Committee proves overwhelmingly, from the evidence put before it, that the real fault was with the Minister and his administration. It was the case that materials and men were distributed over much too wide an area, which resulted in building taking too long and costs being much too high.
Some of the most interesting figures in that Report are those showing the relation of the cost of houses to the national income, a matter with which again I suggest the Chancellor of the Exchequer is immediately concerned. The Committee points out that the percentage being spent today on building houses out of the national income is just about the same as it was pre-war, but that, for that same percentage, we get only half the number of houses, and that is the direct result of the maladministration of the right hon. Gentleman. What about the cost? The Committee pointed out that the cost of these houses to the Exchequer alone is at the rate of £7,500,000 a year and is likely to rise by another £3 million a year each year from now onwards in which 150,000 houses are built. No doubt, £7,500,000 is regarded by the Minister of Health as a mere bagatelle in relation to his miscalculation of the cost of the National Health Service, but it is a figure which definitely will have to be paid and which will be an unnecessary burden on the taxpayer for the next 60 years.
In my view, and in the view of those of us who sit on this side of the House, it has been one of the greatest misfortunes for this country that, after each war, it should have had, as Minister of Housing, a present member of the Labour Party. It is quite true that Dr. Addison as he then was, was sacked, and there can be little doubt in the mind of any ordinary businessman that the quickest way to achieve three aims—first, to reorganise the building industry, which the Chancellor of the Exchequer wants; second, to get cheaper houses; and, third, to get less waste of manpower—would be for the Prime Minister, if he had the courage, to dismiss the present Minister of Health. Failing that, I suggest that the Chancellor of the Exchequer might devote some of his energies to investigating the administration of the Minister of Health. I have no doubt, however, that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will find it very much easier to address exhortations to British businessmen than to tackle the Minister of Health on his own doorstep. The point I want to bring out is this: What right has a man who is responsible for such maladministration in his office to get up and recommend to the country the nationalisation of steel?
Now I turn to manpower. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has said in his speeches that we have reached the limits of available manpower and that, therefore, we cannot expect a substantial accession of manpower to the essential industries. It is quite impossible to agree that there is any substance in any such claim, when one looks round and sees the waste of manpower going on at the present time. I have just quoted two small instances, but every hon. Member in the House has similar instances within his own recollection. We have only to look at the docks in order to appreciate the maladministration of a Government Department. Let hon. Members look at the results of the operation of the National Dock Labour Corporation, which was set up with a flourish of trumpets. It is true that it has practically eliminated the casualisation of dock labour, but it certainly has not resulted in a quicker turn-round of ships. On the contrary, the time taken in British ports to turn round ships is many times what it was before the war. That results in increasing the cost of imported food and raw materials.
It is the common complaint of all shipowners.
I turn now to another example of the failure of the Government to deal with manpower. If hon. Members will look at this Bulletin again, they will find statistics showing the failure of the Government to man up the essential industries to enable them to reach the end-year targets which they originally published. There is a gross shortage in the basic industries of 150,000 men, but, at the same time, in the distributive industries and in Government Departments, there is a substantial excess of men over those who, according to the Government, should have been in those industries by the end of the year. It is another example of the failure of the Government to carry out their own plans.
Taken by and large, I suggest that this is a pretty sorry tale of three years of Socialist administration. It is the sort of story that was to be expected, for Socialists tend to treat nationalisation as an ideological remedy, whereas, of course, in fact, it is only one method of organisation among many, to achieve a particular aim. Its drawback is that it inevitably involves large administrative structures, exceptionally large overheads, slowness of decision and expensiveness in operation. That is essential in its very nature. The men at the top are bound to be a long way from the men doing the actual work at the bottom, and are unable to get their information except at second, third or even fifth hand. The House should mark well that this is a defect which is not peculiar only to nationalisation, for it is also noticeable in large private industries, and is particularly coming to be recognised in America where units get too large. Obviously, in the case of nationalised industries like coal and railways, they are by far, as far as the men employed in them are concerned, the largest industries in the world, and far greater than any private industry anywhere.
Hon. Members opposite often accuse us of wanting to abolish all controls. I know of no responsible Member of my party who ever said such a thing. Obviously, in the conditions of the world today, it is impossible to go back to pre-war. It is inevitable that the State should play in our affairs a role much bigger than it used to do. Decisions on the balance of payments, for example, are bound to be taken on a scale wholly inappropriate for any private industry, however large. In times of scarcity, there are occasions on which decisions as to supplies must be taken by the State on information that only the State can possess. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am very glad that I carry hon. Members opposite with me.
Having made that admission, it still remains true that the future of our standard of living, and, indeed, our very ability to keep the crowded population of this island alive, depend on the 'efficiency with which British industry as a whole adapts itself to the appalling post-war international problems with which it is faced. That efficiency depends, in turn, on the initiative, enterprise and effort that individuals at all levels —and I emphasise at all levels, from the top right down to the bottom—in industry can be induced to put forth. But the experience of the last three years, I am sorry to say, shows that neither enterprise, nor initiative nor the evocation of maximum effort from the individuals therein engaged are the hallmarks of nationalised industries.
As far as controls are concerned—which are the immediate responsibility of Ministers—some have been taken off long after they could safely have been dispensed with. Others, which we believe could safely be taken off, are still maintained, and those that are by common admission still necessary to be maintained are being administered in such a way as to increase the frustration of men engaged in industry, and to discourage their enterprise and initiative. We believe, therefore, that there is an overwhelming case against any further extension of this experiment of nationalisation, at all events by members of His Majesty's present Government.
We had been led to expect a rather different speech from the right hon. Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) from that which he has delivered. We had been led to expect that there would be more fireworks, more animation. I have often heard him speak; he has several styles, and it is for him, of course, to choose according to the occasion. This afternoon we were very much interested, particularly towards the close of his speech, by what came very near to a confession- of faith, I will not say identical with that which many of my hon. Friends would make, but certainly nearer to them than to the faith of the old-fashioned Tories behind him who did not seem to me to be very enthusiastic when the right hon. Gentleman sat down.
I wish to say a few words about the terms of the Amendment which the right hon. Gentleman has moved because it seems to me to be based upon a most inaccurate statement of facts which I should like to analyse. The right hon. Gentleman regrets that, notwithstanding various considerations, which I need not recite,
Your Majesty's Government should obstinately persist "—
I will revert to that phrase in a moment—
in a policy of nationalisation which has already imposed"—
I desire to draw the attention of the House to these words—.
heavy burdens on consumers and taxpayers alike, and is impeding the enterprise and iniative which is essential to our recovery.
I venture to say that that statement has not been proved by the right hon. Gentleman in his speech, and cannot be proved. I propose to give a few facts to the House in support of my criticism of the Amendment.
To begin with, a number of the services that we have nationalised in this Parliament were not referred to by the right hon. Gentleman at all. Therefore, I suppose that he has no criticism to make of them. I begin with the Bank of England, the nationalisation of which was our first act in this field in the first Session of this Parliament. The right hon. Gentleman did not mention the Bank of England in his speech at all. Therefore, I suppose he has no criticism to offer of the way in which the nationalised bank is being conducted. He will contradict me if I have misunderstood him. It is certainly the case that the Bank of England is imposing no burden on consumers or taxpayers. Indeed, so far as the taxpayers are concerned, the Treasury is receiving punctually every half year £870,000, which balances the payment made to the holders of the Treasury Stock issued to the previous stockholders. Therefore, there is no burden on the consumers and taxpayers, and the right hon. Gentleman's Amendment has no application at all to the Bank of England.
I will now pass to the second of the Measures which I myself had the honour to present to the House in the field of nationalisation — Cable and Wireless. Not a word was said about Cable and Wireless by the right hon. Gentleman. Therefore, I suppose, he has no criticism to offer of that nationalised service either.
I am speaking to the right hon. Gentleman who moved the Amendment. His colleague, the right hon. Member for Bournemouth (Mr. Bracken) is, I understand, going to address us tomorrow. The right hon. Member for Southport made no reference to Cable and Wireless. Therefore, I may be allowed to say a word about it. The new Board appointed by the Government is doing a very good job of work. Our public service is cheaper than the private service in the United States. One may send a message from New York for 1s. 3d. a word, and from London for 9d. a word.
I am talking about the present position under nationalisation, because the argument is that the condition of a lot of these industries has become worse since nationalisation. Perhaps I may be allowed to state a few facts about this nationalised service because the Amendment denounces nationalised services in general. It is proper that we should rebut that argument, case by case. There has been no increase in the charges of Cable and Wireless since it was nationalised, and, therefore, no increase in the burden on 'consumers as a result. In fact, as I have pointed out, our rates are cheaper than those of similar concerns in the United States. Whereas our nationalised service made a profit in the first year of its operation, Western Union and a number of other private enterprise cable companies in the United States recorded losses. Our service under nationalisation makes profits whereas similar American private enterprises make losses. The noble Lord the Member for South Dorset (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) grins, but he cannot contradict me.
Yes, Sir. I will give it to the right hon. Gentleman. I have it here. It is entitled "Cable and Wireless Limited," Cmd. 7467, issued in July, 1948. The right hon. Gentleman can get it from the Vote Office. All the facts upon which I am drawing, except the facts concerning American experience, which I am taking from other sources but which are equally open to the right hon. Gentleman, are drawn from this White Paper. Perhaps if the Opposition had read this White Paper they would not have framed their Amendment quite in the terms they did.
I wish to give one further illustration of the great success of this particular nationalised service. Directors' fees and emoluments in 1946, the last year of private ownership, were £48,806. Directors' fees and emoluments in 1947, the first year of public ownership, were £11,410 —less than one quarter of the cost of the swollen bureaucracy in the closing chapter of private enterprise in this field. If the Opposition were to come into power, would they repeal the Cable and Wireless Act? We should like to know. Perhaps the right hon. Member for Bournemouth will tell us tomorrow. I do not press for an answer now. It is a matter for consideration. I should like the right hon. Gentleman to read the White Paper before he answers. I would only remind the Opposition, before they answer, that the Cable and Wireless Act was passed in full agreement with all the other Governments of the Commonwealth who passed similar nationalising Measures.
I now come to a case which was referred to by the right hon. Member for Southport, namely, civil aviation. Civil aviation is the only case in the whole field of nationalised industries in which a burden has been imposed upon the taxpayer. In all other cases, even if a deficit should arise on the working of the nationalised service, it is not borne by the taxpayer at all. It is borne by the industry itself, either from the resources of the industry or by temporary borrowings to be repaid over a short term. That is what the Acts of Parliament say, and that is what the practice is. But in the case of civil aviation, it is quite true that there has been a substantial deficit of £10 million in the first year. The figures for the second year are not quite complete; everybody is guessing, and we shall see in due course how the figures come out. There will, at any rate, be a deficit not smaller than last year's—I agree to that at once—but this is the one case in the whole list where the taxpayer is paying a subsidy direct to the service.
No, Sir. I am arguing that if the taxpayer does not pay, it is not a burden on him. That is a perfectly simple point which I should have thought the hon. Gentleman, with his business experience, would understand.
The Amendment drafted by the Opposition Front Bench—the hon. Member for Bury (Mr. W. Fletcher) might have drafted it better—says that heavy burdens have been imposed upon the taxpayer. What I say is that only in the case of civil aviation has any burden been imposed on the taxpayer. That is the proposition and it can be defended by a study of the facts.
I will deal with consumers in due course. I am talking about the taxpayer at the moment. I am making a perfectly frank avowal to the right hon. Gentleman that this is a case where there is a burden falling on the taxpayer, but I go on to say that it is no new thing for subsidies in the form of taxation to be paid towards civil aviation, either in peace or in war, whether under public ownership or under private ownership. Before the war civil aviation was at a much earlier stage of development, of course, and on a much smaller scale, but before the war subsidies were paid by the taxpayer to the private civil air lines, and subsidies are being paid today, sometimes openly and sometimes in a concealed form, to civil airlines in a great number of countries in many parts of the world. This is irrespective of whether the service is being conducted through a private or public agency.
The plain truth is that at the present time, in the present state of our knowledge and development of civil aviation, it is very difficult under any conditions to run such services at a profit. Therefore, subsidies are very common. In many cases, of course, the subsidy is paid in a concealed form through a contract for the carriage of mails at an artificial price. We do not do that. Our subsidy is perfectly straightforward and unconcealed.
Not without notice. No doubt they are larger now. I should expect them to be larger now because the whole thing is on a much larger scale. I do not think that is on all fours with the interesting figures, as I am sure the hon. and gallant Gentleman found them, which I gave about Cable and Wireless. Those figures were not in respect of prewar and post-war, with a great gap between; they referred to the year before and the year after public ownership had been introduced—successive years.
On civil aviation I should like to say a few words specifically, because it is the one item in which the right hon. Gentleman has got a case so far as the taxpayer is concerned. There is no doubt that critics of British civil aviation have been very insistent upon the deficits that have been incurred, and I do not blame them, but great achievements have also been accomplished by the three Corporations. There is not at the present time a trunk route in the world on which the British civil ensign is not flying. We have introduced a service on all the trunk routes all over the world, in spite of the difficulties that we have had to face owing to the fact that during the war, when many of our competitors, the Americans and others, were concentrating on improving civil aircraft types, we were concentrating on combat aircraft and had to put our civil aviation into cold storage. It was part of our war effort to do that.
In that time we produced some of the finest combat aircraft in the world, both bombers and fighters, and I have no doubt that it will not be long—it should be only a matter of a few years—before we are able to catch up on the civil types and prove that we can put into the air as good British-built machines as the machines put up by any other country in the world. We are admittedly in a transitional stage, and the effects of the war are particularly marked in this field of civil aircraft construction.
None the less, these deficits must be reduced, and it is the intention of the Government to take effective steps to reduce them. While fostering the due development of civil aviation, my noble Friend the Minister of Civil Aviation is making it his special task to reduce these deficits as far and rapidly as possible. Under the stimulus of my noble Friend, the Corporations, are now showing great energy in overhauling their arrangements. Both B.O.A.C. and B.E.A.C. are engaged in a thorough review of their organisation at the present time. It may well be that it has become top-heavy and overmanned. Mr. Whitney Straight has placed on Sir Miles Thomas, who is now deputy-chairman of B.O.A.C.—a man with a fine reputation in business, whom I personally have met on many occasions and for whom I have a high regard—the executive responsibility for carrying through this reorganisation. I hope and believe that his efforts will be crowned with success.
It is no good making sanguine predictions in this difficult and unpredictable field of civil aviation, but my noble Friend and the Government are determined that every possible weakness shall be eliminated by the beginning of the financial year 1949-50. That is our aim, and I hope and believe that the socialised Corporations, which have done fine work up to the present time and have not had their full share of praise, will from that time onwards be free from the criticisms which have been passed upon them on financial and other grounds.
That is all I wish to say on civil aviation and I turn to coal, about which the right hon. Gentleman had a good deal to say. The first year's report of the National Coal Board—he said he had read that, so he has been reading more than his right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth (Mr. Bracken)—is, I think we can all agree, a very interesting document. It gives a great deal more information about the coal industry than the private owners ever gave in the old days. This is all to the good.
It is quite true that the first year's working shows a deficit. It did not fall on the taxpayer. It was covered partly by the resources of the industry itself and partly by short-term borrowing. I hope hon. Gentlemen opposite understand this point, which I keep trying to make in simple language. I will try to put it colloquially. The taxpayer coughed up nothing at all for coal in the first year. In the second year, in the first two quarters, as the right hon Gentleman said, there have been small surpluses. I have asked my right hon. Friend the Minister of Fuel and Power, sitting beside me, about the third quarter. The figures for the third quarter have not yet been received, but they will be published as soon as they are received. There will be no concealment, but at the moment we do not know the answer to the right hon. Gentleman's question; we hope it will be available soon.
The first two quarters show small surpluses. Why was it that we had a deficit last year? The answer is extremely simple. The first year's deficit was largely due to improved conditions for the miners. I will enumerate them: the five-day week, the increased minimum wage, and increases for deputies and others, local wage adjustments, overtime extensions, holiday pay and the free use of pithead baths. This is the reason why there was a deficit in the first year. These increased labour costs were deliberately incurred on behalf of the Government by the National Coal Board. They were deliberately incurred because they were both right in themselves and because they were necessary if we are to maintain the labour force in the pits. There is no need for any doubt or concealment in the matter. It was necessary to give the miners a square deal at long last.
Had this not been done, the labour force in the pits would certainly have dwindled and shrunk even further than it has done. In the old days in the mining districts there was little else a man or a boy could do except go down the pits. Men stayed in the pits, even though the conditions were bad and the wages low, because there was nowhere else they could go. Today we have full employment. We have had it for three years and there is no sign of its abating. In these conditions of full employment there are alternative opportunities open—that is, alternatives to the pit. Therefore, if it is necessary, as it is, not only on moral grounds but on very good economic grounds also, to maintain the total labour force in the coal fields we must see that the status and economic conditions of the mine worker are raised relative to that of other sections of the community.
For that reason these advances were deliberately given. Before I come to the two alternative ways in which we could have avoided the deficit let me say this much: the cheapening of coal in the future must depend—and it is desirable that the price of coal should be reduced —not on seeking to lower the conditions of the workers in the pits, but on securing greater efficiency in the organisation of the industry, by taking full advantage of the pooling and unification which is possible under public ownership and by the increased application of science and modern methods. That is our only way of cheapening the price of coal in the future, as we must desire to cheapen it.
Even so, it would have been possible for us to have avoided the deficit in the first year of nationalisation and to have shown a surplus. It could have been done in either of two ways. It could have been done by further increasing the price of coal or it could have been done by closing down a large number of pits, mostly in Durham and South Wales, which, taken separately and individually, at this stage of the development of the industry, show deficits, pit by pit. If it had been desired to avoid the deficit by raising the price, it would have been necessary to raise the price by 2s. 9d. a ton throughout the year. If the other method were followed, it would have been possible to avoid the deficit by closing 300 pits producing between them some 35 to 40 million tons of coal during the year and employing some 150,000 miners.
We deliberately rejected both those courses and I would like to know from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bournemouth, tomorrow, whether the Conservative Party, had the choice lain with them, would have adopted either of the courses which we rejected. Would they have increased the price of coal by 2s. 9d. a ton or would they have closed 300 pits and thrown 150,000 miners out of employment? Unless one or other of those courses had been adopted it would have been quite impossible to avoid a deficit. We say deliberately it was better to have the deficit than to adopt either of the courses which I have outlined.
That is a mean kind of intervention. The hon. and gallant Gentleman did not so speak, nor did his political associates so speak, of Lord Hyndley when he was working for Powell Duffryn.' They only so speak of Lord Hyndley when he comes forward to do a big job for the country, realising all the abuse he is going to get from some of his associates in private industry. For my part, I think it is a little dingy, all this throwing of bricks at a public-spirited man who, at any rate, knows more about the mining industry than most hon. Members on the opposite side of the House.
I am not going to pay any more heed to anything the hon. and gallant Gentleman says. We read in the Amendment moved by the right hon. Gentleman that not only have the nationalised industries
imposed heavy burdens on consumers and taxpayers alike,
but they have also impeded
enterprise and initiative.
I say that never have we bad more enterprise and initiative than is being shown now by the Coal Board and their officers in working out schemes for putting this wretched, del apidated industry into a proper condition. All through the years of private ownership the dreary story of coal has gone on and now. for the first time, the thing is being tackled in a big way, looking to the future, and plans are being made for the——
Plans are being made whereby I hope and believe in a few years we shall see a rapid upward trend in the output and a rapid downward trend in the cost of production of coal in this country. The right hon. Gentleman also referred, in passing, to electricity and gas. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Fuel and Power is to speak——
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves the question of coal may I remind him that I asked specifically whether we were to have the advantage of the publication not only of the Burrows report, but also of the evidence.
I noted that. The Minister of Fuel and Power is to speak tomorrow in this Debate, and I think it will be agreed that it will be more convenient that he should deal, as he undertakes to deal, with those matters falling within the work of his own Department, including whatever is to be said regarding electricity and gas. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that nationalisation in these cases is very recent; in the case of electricity we have not yet had a full year, and in the case of gas the period is even shorter. However, my right hon. Friend will deal with all matters touching the fuel and power industries tomorrow. But now I do ask of the right hon. Member for Bournemouth, when he speaks, to say whether the Conservative Party, if perchance they came back to office, would repeal the nationalisation of coal or of electricity or of gas. I think we should like to know whether the last word was spoken in the Industrial Charter of the Conservative Party, which I have been studying, but which, I think, is already a little out of date. However, no doubt the right hon. Gentleman will tell us tomorrow what are the intentions of his party in this field just now.
I should like to turn to transport for a moment. The railways passed into public ownership on 1st January, 1948. Therefore, the first full year is not yet complete, for which accounts will be published as soon as they are received. But I assert—and I am not sure that this is realised by all Members of the House—that there has been no increased burden upon users of railways since nationalisation. There has been no increase in fares or rates or charges on British Railways since British Railways came into existence. No one is going to deny that, I think. But it is not always remembered. The last increase in railway fares and rates was on 1st October, 1947, when the railways were still in private hands.
Let me continue the argument. Even so, the increase resulted only in establishing a level of 55 per cent. above the pre-war level, for both passenger fares and freight rates for goods. That increase I regard, as very moderate indeed, having regard to the increases that have taken place in other prices. It is difficult to get an exact parallel. The cost of living is not an exact parallel, due to food subsidies and other factors. Perhaps the nearest parallel I can get is this. The present level is 55 per cent. above that of pre-war for the railways, while the wholesale prices index shows an increase of 118 per t ent—more than twice the pre-war level. Therefore, we can say that our railway services, both for passengers and goods, are relatively cheap as prices go in these days.
The right hon. Gentleman is good enough to recall a phrase of mine—"a pretty poor bag of assets." We are improving them. I see a number of Conservative Members write to "The Times" complaining about their meals on the trains, but we are, on the whole, I think, being reasonably well fed in these hard times.
We are improving them. The Minister of Transport is doing everything he can to assist in the improvement of all the rolling stock and of the permanent way. There are a great number of wagons that have been worn out by the strain of wartime usage, when there was no replacement. They are now being steadily replaced in the nationalised railway shops, where the men are working exceedingly well. There is a quicker turn round of rolling stock than there was before.
As to road transport, it is yet too early to report. Road transport is only just beginning to be organised within the new framework.
But what of my question about the operating revenues of the railways? We do not have to wait until the end of the year for that information. We must know currently how they are going. I asked whether the operating revenues were covering operating costs, apart from the money required for interest.
Figures are published from time to time about that, but I think it would be better, rather than to give a partial view in the eleventh month of the year, to wait until we can see the picture as a whole, and then it will be open to debate and comment everywhere.
I turn from the railways to road transport. That is only in process of being built up as a socialised service, but there is now a nucleus of large road transport firms around which the new structure of unified long distance road transport will be developed. My right hon. Friend is, I think, to be congratulated on the way in which he is succeeding by voluntary agreement in getting this nucleus organised for the new road service.
With regard to docks, I must say that the right hon. Gentleman was in error, and was not able to produce any figures. I am told that no figures can be produced to substantiate what he said. I am told so by the Minister of Transport. When the right hon. Gentleman was speaking I consulted my right hon. Friend, and he told me that there is now a quicker not a slower—turn round of ships in the docks, and that that is so in spite of the fact that there is still a great deal of war damage to be overcome. A great number of transit sheds were blown to pieces by enemy action, and much other war damage remains to be made good. The Parliamentary Secretary has recently been making a tour of the various docks, and studying what priority should be given for improvements. I am assured that, considering the war damage that was done and is in course of repair, there is no justification for the statement that the right hon. Gentleman made.
I do not think we can be talking about the same thing. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman heard what I said. Certainly, the statement I made—or, at least meant to make—was that the turn round of ships today is taking very much longer than it did before the war.
The truth is that the right hon. Gentleman—and I am saying this in a perfectly courteous fashion—has not got the figures on which to defend the statement that he made. My right hon. Friend tells me that before the war statistics were very fragmentary indeed, and that it is very difficult to get a comparison with the pre-war situation. What I am saying is this—this is what my right hon. Friend assures me—that there has been in recent times a substantial quickening in the turn round of ships.
I do not want to get involved about this, but I do not think anyone can doubt that there must have been some improvement lately. However, in spite of this it compares badly with the pre-war record.
Then the right hon. Gentleman does not disagree with anything I am saying on this subject. I said there has been a substantial improvement lately, and he does not disagree with that. There has been a substantial improvement lately, since nationalisation. The right hon. Gentleman is now wanting to make comparisons with pre-war. I am assured that statistics do not exist for such a comparison effectively to be made.
I do not want to intrude, but I know something of the point raised by the right hon. Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson). He apparently does not know that it takes much longer to load a ship than to discharge it. There never was such a volume of exports from this country as there is now, and, of course it takes longer to load that larger quantity of goods, and, to that extent, to turn a ship round. I should like to suggest at the same time that he should have a look at the profits made by the shipowners.
It would be most unfortunate, as I am sure the Minister of Transport would agree, it a wrong impression went out from this Debate on this subject. There is no shadow of doubt, whatever the basis of the statistics before the war, that ships are in port anything up to one-third longer than they were before the war. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will see that no wrong impression goes out that the position is in any way satisfactory. It would be against his own interests and that of his colleagues if that were to happen.
No position is completely satisfactory, but I did not understand that it was contradicted that there had recently been an improvement—an improvement since the industry was nationalised. That is the sole point which I am seeking to establish in this context.
With regard to the iron and steel industry, we must, of course, be careful not to anticipate the Debate on the Second Reading of the Bill. Nevertheless, the right hon. Gentleman made certain references to this subject, and I propose to make one or two guarded references also, seeking not to conflict with Mr.Speaker's Ruling. We are charged with "obstinately persisting" in the policy of nationalisation. We shall obstinately persist in carrying out the promises which we made to the electors. That is what we are here for. This Bill, which the right hon. Gentleman has referred to, is, indeed, the last great nationalisation Measure of this Parliament which will complete the series of promises under that head made to the electors. In the next Parliament, there may be some more, and there will be plenty of time to discuss those before, during and after the next election. This finishes the task which we undertook before the election in 1945.
Iron and steel in private hands is restrictionist by nature. We have had proof of that in the past. Broadly speaking—never mind what the legislation may be—what we all agree we should have in this country, and must have, is a modern, efficient and expansionist iron and steel industry. That surely is common ground among us all. Is it not also common ground that the control of this industry is in very few hands—a very small number of people holding a very large number of directorships and exercising a very large amount of influence on this part of the industrial field and many neighbouring parts of it. These men are responsible to no public authority, and, being very few, they have great power. They have too much power.
One of the things that has shocked me —and here I become reminiscent in referring to war-time and to the Coalition Government—has been the way in which plans for development have so often been regarded as less important than plans for scrapping and redundancy arrangements. When I was President of the Board of Trade during the war, there was much discussion—indeed, it was raised at one time in this House—about the Welsh tinplate industry. I, as President of the Board of Trade, constantly received representatives of the tinplate industry in South Wales, who were seeking my signature to a certificate in respect of a redundancy scheme. They valued my autograph very highly; it would have relieved them of a very heavy burden of Income Tax and Excess Profits Tax had I been willing to certify that this scheme would be in the national interest.
I never could bring myself to certify that it would be in the national interest to scrap a great number of antiquated tinplate works in South Wales, unless something good and modern was to be put in their place. About this we had a long debate. I found it difficult to get from those who came to see me about the redundancy scheme any clear undertaking that they would put up a new hot strip mill or cold reduction plant anywhere in the South Wales area. That left a most marked impression on my mind and illustrated the restrictionist psychology of those in this industry. In South Wales, the workers are much less interested in plans for paying people not to produce anything any more than they are in plans for building new plant with which they could hold their own in competition.
On a point of Order. We were told, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, when discussing this matter that the Rules of Order were fairly strict, and that no details at all of iron and steel were a proper subject for discussion. If the right hon. Gentleman is developing this matter in considerable detail, I take it that my right hon. Friend who will open the Debate tomorrow will also be allowed to deal with this matter.
I think that the right hon. Member was referring to some Ruling made in the Debate on the Address, which was a good deal wider than the Debate now on the right hon. Gentleman's Amendment. I think that the right hon. Member and the House would be in order in discussing nationalisation generally. The two subjects under discussion today are production and nationalisation. Some industries have been nationalised and some are proposed to be nationalised. That is the view which Mr. Speaker holds. I have already discussed it with him, and I now rule accordingly.
I understood that we were not to discuss any details of the nationalisation of steel, more especially after —whatever may have been the case on the general Debate—the Amendment had been definitely moved, and I think that I am in order in suggesting that there is nothing in the Amendment which would justify, I respectfully submit, any discussion ——
My view is that the right hon. Member was talking about tinplate and not about steel [Laughter]. I am not supposed to know anything about the technical aspects of any particular industry, however much it may amuse the Opposition. The position is that we cannot have a Second Reading Debate in anticipation of a Bill which is proposed in the King's Speech, but general references to nationalisation are in order.
I am most anxious to keep within Mr. Speaker's Ruling, and I have no intention of discussing any details connected with the Bill nor of developing arguments in favour of the scheme set out in the Bill. On the other hand, I thought—and I gather that you have so ruled, Mr. Deputy-Speaker that it would be perfectly proper to make certain general observations, particularly by way of reminiscence, which have a bearing on the Amendment in which His Majesty's Government are criticised because they are going, according to the Amendment, "obstinately to persist" in a policy of nationalisation, which has no meaning except in relation to iron and steel. It is not my desire to discuss the Bill. I was giving certain retrospective reflections as to why——
The point which my right hon. Friend is making is merely to establish the fact that we shall have the right to reply in equal detail to what the right hon. Gentleman has said. We are only too glad to include something to do with the steel industry in this Debate. We had understood that that was not permitted, but now that we know that it is permitted for the right hon. Gentleman, we shall be glad to have an assurance that equally it will be permitted for the other side.
I do not think that there is any serious matter of debate between us on what it is reasonable to discuss. I hope my hon. Friend the Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool (Mrs. Braddock) can hear me now. All that I was desirous of saying to her and other hon. Members was that, in the old days in 1944 there was clear evidence that this particular section of industry—and I believe the same could be said of other sections—was much more concerned with restrictions and making a profit out of a planned restrictionist scheme than with expanding and modernising a most essential industry.
About iron and steel, I make this general observation, which is wide of any argument about any Bill at all. I say that in the national interest we must have an effective, a modern and a larger iron and steel industry—larger than now. How to get that is anybody's argument, but it must be larger than now. It is necessary to have this, partly for the sake of our own national economy in the United Kingdom, partly in order that we can quickly re-equip the Commonwealth and other territories in which we are interested, where there is a great need for steel for railways and the like, partly in order to sustain the export drive during the difficult years which lie ahead of us, and partly—and not least important—on grounds of national defence in this troubled hour of the world's history, because in the last resort, whatever is said about new weapons, old weapons are made principally of steel, and if clashes should come much steel will be needed. For all these reasons, it is essential that we should have a large, efficient and expanding iron and steel industry, and I do not think that past history shows that we are assured that we can get it. Therefore, it is for this House to consider what measures it is necessary to take in order to give us what we must have and have not yet got.
A few days ago I read a statement in terms which I did not think could be improved upon in regard to what has happened in this House and in this land in these last three years. Before quoting these words, I wish that hon. Members opposite would show a little more pride in the achievements of the British people in this hour of difficulty; it has been a great job that has been done by all our countrymen who are working in the fields, in the mines and in the factories, and in all branches of industry. Here I quote these words, which struck me when I read them as being a very clear and admirable statement of the case:
British labour is able to claim that by pursuing the Socialist policy enunciated in 1945 Britain has increased her production more than any other European country "—
even though they have not Labour Governments and Socialist majorities; and in some respects it would have been happier if some of them had—
that she has made a diligent and dramatic effort to establish her economic independence, and that she has not been deflected from the pursuit of her Socialist aims by all the scares and threats of the enemy. The Steel Bill is the symbol of the fact that a resolute, democratic Socialism still rules in one of the most powerful nations in the world. … It is surely no accident that Britain under a strong Socialist Government has less industrial disturbance and fewer Communists than any other country in the West.
I pay my tribute to whoever, writing for "Tribune," wrote those words.
Until the authorship of that article was disclosed the Opposition thought it was very good. It was received with respectful silence whilst there was anonymity. It was very fortunate for Britain and the world that the Tory Party lost the last General Election. And after nearly three and a half years the Tory Party have not yet registered one single victory in a by-election where the seat was won at the last General Election by a Labour candidate. Such a long and unbroken series of electoral rebuffs, in spite of all the opportunities so richly offered to the Opposition to exploit every temporary grievance and every shortage due to war and to our effort in the war, such a failure over three and a half years to make any advance in their electoral position is without parallel in modern British Parliamentary history. Not since the great Reform Bill of 1832 has any Opposition so ignominiously failed to win back the lost confidence of the electorate. I ask the House, in the Debate which is beginning today, to reject this Amendment, which I characterise as slip-shod. unsubstantiated and doctrinaire.
The Chancellor of the Duchy, in commencing his speech, said that he was disappointed in the case my right hon. Friend had made in developing his argument, and he went on to deal in some detail with the various points which my right hon. Friend had put forward. But what in substance was the defence put forward by the Chancellor of the Duchy? First, that his Government had not succeeded in two years in turning either the Bank of England or Cable and Wireless into a loss. It would have been excessively difficult to have done so in the case of either of those services. Then, when he got on to something which was getting a little closer to productive industry he had, of course, to admit that losses were occurring. The first was the matter of civil aviation, where he frankly acknowledged that the loss was a large one—£10 million or so.
When the right hon. Gentleman passed from civil aviation to coal he said: "Well, yes, there has been a loss of some £20 million or so, but so far that has not been passed on to the consumer or the taxpayer. Indeed, we could have avoided that loss." We are to assume that at the beginning of 1947 the Labour Government were able to anticipate that they would, in fact, make such a substantial loss, and they had the alternative, as the right hon. Gentleman said, of either raising prices or closing 300 pits. Well, I do not think that the ordinary person would really credit the Labour Party with such prescience as to be able to anticipate what did, in fact, occur—and occurred in a progressive manner towards the end of that year. The right hon. Gentleman then went on to deal with transport, in respect of which he said that only 11 months had gone past, and that it was anybody's guess whether we should be able to pay for our commitments in that field. Finally, of course, he dealt with the position of the steel industry, which falls to be considered at a later period.
Substantially, when we get into the field of the nationalisation of private enterprise the story is not, as my right hon. Friend said, a very pretty one. But for the purposes of what I want to say today I do not propose to go into any detail. I want to consider the matter—and I invite the Government so to consider it—along one or two general lines which I feel need to be considered before the Government embark on a further venture in this great experimental field. The Chancellor of the Duchy said: "Well, we have only one large major field in which we are going to experiment." Nevertheless, that field is so large that I believe all sorts of people would wish to be more satisfied in their minds before this great, and in some ways final, step is taken.
It is no bad thing from time to time to look at experience throughout the world. Members of this House and an other place from time to time call in aid the experiences of other countries in the field of nationalisation. I think that we are justified in seeing what, in fact, are these experiences. I am not for this purpose going to deal with our Dominions. I will confine myself to large and important countries which have tried the same experiment—France, Holland and Czechoslovakia in particular. We have also the views of countries that have not tried the experiment but may well have given the matter considerable consideration, particularly in the light of the experience of those countries that have tried it.
In that connection, I would mention in particular such countries as Belgium and, of course, the United States in another context. My contact as far as productive industry in America is concerned, has been almost wholly with the management and technical classes. I have not come into much contact with the ownership side of industry in that country. My contact since the war has been with those members of the United States who from time to time have come over here and have paid me the compliment of discussing nationalisation with me. I find that they are very broadminded on the matter and are ready to discuss it quite objectively. So far, I have found that on no occasion have they been sufficiently convinced on the two points I shall deal with later on in my speech.
So far as the Continent is concerned, we have the case of France who, partly because of her very distracted political conditions, turned to nationalisation as a possible remedy for her constant ills. There is no doubt that the result in France has been most disappointing; indeed, it has become so costly that the French are, not unnaturally, deeply concerned about the present position. Let us turn to another part of Europe where they are possibly more hard-headed than France in economic and industrial matters, and that is to the Low Countries —Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg in particular. Holland at one time did experiment with nationalisation. So far as her coalmining industry was concerned, about half of her pits were put under state control. There must have been a very real temptation after the war to put the whole of that industry under the same type of control. They considered the matter in some detail, but after due consideration, and partly, I think, as a result of the experience of this country, they decided that for the time being they were not going to embark on further state control of that industry.
Belgium, where the temptation in some senses must have been even greater because of her present socialist majority, likewise considered the whole field of her heavy industry from the nationalisation point of view and, as hon. Members know, decided that the time was either not propitious or that the case had not been proved to warrant embarking on this experiment. Luxembourg took precisely the same view. I have had an opportunity to meet representatives of all three of these countries as recently as a fortnight ago in Germany, and they have all confirmed this view. Czechoslovakia, like France, embarked on this experiment and the results have not been dissimilar to those in France. I mention this because I think it reasonable for the House to pay some regard to the reactions of other countries to our own experience in this field.
Members may well ask what are the main factors which have decided these other countries on this point of view. I cannot of course give them the answer, but I am inclined to think that most thinking people who have had the opportunity or the experience to judge this matter would say that in two main fields the case has not so far been proved. The most difficult problem of any Government after nationalising an industry is the appointment of personnel. I am sorry that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster brought in, quite unnecessarily, Lord Hyndley with a view to defending him against some mythical attack supposed to have been made against him. So far as I can remember, my right hon. Friend did not mention him in his remarks, but said something in connection with the acquisition by the National Coal Board of large houses. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is entirely wrong in imagining that in any other field than distribution Lord Hyndley knows more than anyone else. As far as the production side of the industry is concerned, I have forgotten far more than he ever knew.
Any Government which nationalises an industry is confronted with a very real problem when it comes to the appointment of those who must run the industry on its behalf. They have two alternatives. Either they must set up a board which is pliable and somewhat nebulous in character, a board which will carry out the wishes and whims of the Minister of the day, or they must appoint a board which will be strong minded and independent, a board which will quite likely go somewhat contrary to the views of the Minister and of the Government of the day. The temptation must necessarily be to veer towards the former of these two alternatives. Indeed, the Government mentally limit the field from which they can call upon men to serve on these hoards. It is perfectly true to say, and it is perhaps not unreasonable that it should be so, that the Government tend to appoint men who are politically not unsympathetic to their point of view—I put it no higher than that. It follows that their chances of producing the right men or the right set of men are considerably minimised.
I cannot over-emphasise the part which personnel, particularly in the higher ranks of industry, must inevitably play. It is they who in the last resort set both the standard and the tone throughout the industry. It may well be said that those who serve on these boards are very remote from the hewers at the coal-face, but the whole sense of leadership which is created at the top makes itself felt right down to the man at the coal-face, and unless the very best people are in supreme control we cannot hope to get leadership throughout the industry. I am not necessarily saying anything against those who have so far been selected for this type of work—I do not want to bring personalities into this matter. The point is that unless the right people can be selected, there will be a lower standard throughout the particular industry, and unless the Government of the day are singularly lucky, the chances of their selecting the right men are not very great. Furthermore, by the very nature of nationalisation, not only is far more power concentrated in the hands of these men, but far greater opportunities for influencing the industry over which they are put into control. In discussing this matter with those whose views are completely objective I have found that they are by no means convinced that, under nationalisation, a Government is likely to be successful in making selections which, as I have said, are, by the very nature of nationalisation, all-important.
I pass from that to a natural corollary —the question of decentralisation. This matter has been discussed up and down the country, particularly with reference to coalmining, and no doubt in time will be discussed in connection with iron and steel, railways and other things. Decentralisation is not very far removed from personnel, and personnel from leadership. Decentralisation is a state of mind, and unless men can be selected who are big enough, experienced enough, and can command, among their subordinates, a sufficient sense of confidence, it simply is not a practical proposition. The very essence of nationalisation is centralisation, and the effort to be made to decentralise is thereby the greater. If there ever was an example of good decentralisation it was that which was shown by General Eisenhower during the war. He was a great man who had the confidence of those who served under him, not only in his own armies but throughout all the Allied armies. No small part of the success which was achieved by the Allies was due to the ability of General Eisenhower to decentralise.
So far, the case for decentralisation has not been proved. I believe that the greatest evil today, in the administration of coalmining in particular. and, no doubt, in some other nationalised industries, is the failure to date to deal with decentralisation effectively. All sorts of assurances have been given from time to time that decentralisation is the aim and object of those in charge, that they have schemes and ideas in hand which will bring about the ideal state of decentralisation. In fact, however, as those of us who were in productive industry understood it to be, the fringe of decentralisation has only just been touched. I remember, a few months after the Coal Board came into operation, the Deputy-Chairman making a comment which, I think, was indicative of the attitude of a certain type of mind towards this whole problem. He said, "For the first time we have got a good filing system in this industry"—a deplorable point of view. We did not want a filing system; we wanted production. But production cannot come except through leadership, and leadership can only come through decentralisation, which was entirely lacking.
I do not want to take up much more of the time of the House. I wanted to develop these two themes, because I believe that in approaching the problem of further nationalisation—the inherent point in the Amendment of the Opposition that we as a people are not justified in going further along the road of experiments until we know that we can solve a problem which so far has not been solved. I do not believe that in either of the two cases I have mentioned we have as yet found a solution. I do not believe that this is a matter which the ordinary man in the street can judge for himself. I believe that long and intimate experience of productive industry is required before one can give a true answer to the two propositions I have put forward. I believe that many Members on both sides of the House would find themselves in great difficulty in giving an honest appreciation of these propositions. There are Members on both sides who are in that position, but I question if any one of them can get up and say that the fundamental problems of nationalisation have been in any sense solved.
The Government, however, propose to embark on yet another large measure of nationalisation which, in this case, will concern such a wide range of industries that it will, in turn, affect the whole of the rest of our economy. I believe the case to be unproved, and that the Government are advancing along uncharted ground in going forward with their further experiment. For those reasons, I support the Amendment.
By way of preamble to what I have to say I should like to repeat some words from the Gracious Speech which were used yesterday by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I do so because of their great significance, and because they might otherwise be overlooked as they have no direct connection with any proposed legislation:
It is only by our continued exertions and self-restraint that we shall win through. Inventive thought matched to hard work is necessary to enable workers and management, in common effort and counsel, to make the
fullest use of our available resources."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st November, 1948; Vol. 457, c. 536.]
Common sense was never more finely expressed. That reference to self-restraint is particularly apt in a condition of full employment, and some measure of centralisation is a prerequisite to success in obtaining full employment. Full employment itself, quite apart from nationalisation, alters the whole character of industrial relationships. It changes the pattern of power relationships in industry. It merges the power of employers and managers, and increases the power of the workers. Where there are more jobs than workers available to fill them the market for labour is destroyed. Labour, at last, ceases to be a commodity, and the dignity of the human personality has a chance to show itself in the common man. That is a position which many of us have longed for throughout many years of industry.
We are aware, through our association with industry, that, ordinarily, men belonging to the working class have had their minds dogged and dominated by two fears for many years—the fear of unemployment and the certainty of ending their days in the workhouse. Those days I am glad to say, are gone, and if a Government of this character continues to be returned at successive Elections they will never come back. I am conscious of the fact that there is also a heavy burden of responsibility upon trade unionists and trade union leaders. I am conscious of the inflationary pressure which is inseparable from such a condition as full employment, and I realise that any attempt to exploit the situation on the part of trade unionists and trade union leaders would inevitably result in disaster. Self-restraint is a necessary condition for success in a condition of full employment. It is to the everlasting credit of the trade union movement that it has not sought to exploit this situation, and I am very proud indeed, as a trade union official, to express my approval of the recent action of the trade union movement in this regard.
Equally, the Government are to be congratulated on the degree of co-operation existing between them and the T.U.C. It is certainly to be hoped that such co-operation will continue. It is essential to the success of a full employment policy, just as some measure of nationalisation is equally necessary for its success. I like also the reference in the Gracious Speech to "common effort and common counsel" between workers and management. I am satisfied that there is a greater prospect of common effort and common counsel between managements and workers in nationalised industry than we could hope to get in private industry. This degree of common effort and common counsel is not easy to bring about in these immediate post-war years, so many workers have such bitter memories, and, in the past, so many managements have relied on the threat of the sack to maintain discipline. Those bad old days have gone, and I hope they have gone for good. The future of Britain depends on the loyal co-operation of all the human factors in production if we are to survive as a nation, and if we and our children, and our children's children, are to enjoy freedom from fear and freedom from want.
Incidentally, I should like to say that self-restraint is equally necessary on the part of journalists and politicians. I say this because a perusal of the daily and weekly Press leads me to fear that there ought to be, for the nation's sake, much greater restraint on the part of some journalists and some politicians. Certain efforts have been made in the Tory Press recently which are just food and drink to the Kremlin. Some of the remarks made in the Tory Press recently would do credit to the "Daily Worker." Some Tory politicians move up and down the country crying havoc. They are the prophets of doom; they are, in fact, Britain's sixth column, fighting behind the skirts of members of the League of Nagging Housewives. It is a contemptible propaganda, seeking to undermine the morale of the people and retard the return of that prosperity which we all desire. They cannot speak without saying that the times in Britain are difficult.
I have very vivid memories of a Debate during the Special Session, during which the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the President of the Board of Trade were outlining the facts of Britain's partial recovery from our post-war distresses, and I am reminded in this connection of the summer which we have just had, and of the cornfields of Britain, as we saw them, with the corn lying flat, tangled, bedraggled, sodden and so on. This conveyed to me a picture of the Tory benches
during the recital by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the President of the Board of Trade, of the recovery which this country had made from the condition in which we were placed during 1947. That was a story of Britain on the road to recovery, but it looked to me as if hon. Gentlemen opposite were very sorry to hear it. May I presume to offer them a little advice from the words of Shakespeare?
Though it be honest, it is never good
To bring bad news: give to a gracious message
An host of tongues, but let ill tidings tell
Themselves when they be felt.
Let me end by myself bringing a gracious message from the miners of Leicestershire, whom I am proud to count among my constituents. These are the figures of production in Leicestershire under the nationalised industry, compared with the production figures of the days before the war. I want to relate these figures to the figures of general production over the whole field of industry both before and after the war. In 1939, in Great Britain as a whole, we produced 231,337,000 tons, which may be taken as datum 100. In 1947, industry as a whole produced 187 million tons, which gives an index figure of 80.83. That means that, during last year, generally speaking, over the mines as a whole, there was a falling off in production, but, last year, in Leicestershire, as compared with 1939, the production figure was 139.83 per cent. In 1939, Leicester produced 2,337,000 tons; last year, it produced 3,321,000 tons, giving that index figure of 139.83.
As an indication of the situation in relation to output per worker, I want to give these figures. In Great Britain as a whole in 1939, we produced, per man in industry, 302 tons; in 1947, there was a falling off and the production was only 263 tons, representing 87.09 per cent. of the 1939 figures. In Leicestershire, however, a completely different story has to be told. In 1939, the production was 365 tons; last year, the figure was 429 tons. That is a remarkable improvement in this post-war period of production per worker over the figures of production per worker in 1939. It is a very proud story indeed, and it is being maintained. Taking the output of saleable coal for the six months up to June, 1947, the output was 1,664,915 tons, but output for the first six months of this year was 1,754,141 tons, representing an increase in the first six months of this year over the first six months of last year of 99,126 tons. That is a remarkable story of production under nationalisation, where we get complete co-operation, or as complete as we can hope to get it, with certain exceptions, between management and workers, and I am very proud indeed to have this opportunity of telling that story to this House.
The hon. Member for Bosworth (Mr. A. Allen) had some hard things to say about certain members of the Conservative Party and certain Tory newspapers for impeding our national recovery. I am sure he is well intentioned, but I am equally certain that he is wrong. The Conservative Party does not take second place to the Labour Party, or any other party, in its desire for the well-being of this country. I assure the hon. Member, who has the honour to represent a coalmining community, that the Tory Party fervently desire that coal production and the well-being of the men in the industry will be successfully brought about, because, if they are not, heaven help this country.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer accused a group of tinplate industrialists in South Wales of seeking great personal gain by making claims for obsolescence of plant to which they were not entitled. He spoke of his long interviews with them. The thing that I find so surprising is that he had more than one meeting with them. I should have thought that had they been people of that calibre, he would have brought the meeting to an end immediately. However, the tinplate industrialists in South Wales will have something to say about that, and I look forward to their reply, either in this House or elsewhere.
I support the Amendment for the reasons stated in the terms of the Amendment itself and for those given by my right hon. Friend who opened this Debate. I recognise that any Government is entitled to control an industry like the steel industry which is protected by tariffs, and where an abnormal post-war demand calls for priorities in distribution and for specific allocations. But I regard the taking over of the industry by the State as wholly undesirable and unnecessary. This Government are possessed of powers of control greater than any other peace time Government in the history of our country.
If we get the Soviet system, probably the hon. Member will be satisfied. It inherited the emergency powers granted to Mr. Chamberlain's Government at the outbreak of war; these were added to from time to time by the Coalition Government, and since the war ended the present Government have made many rules and orders to meet post-war difficulties. In my opinion, they have all the power necessary for controlling any industry. In those circumstances, the proposal mentioned in the Gracious Speech to bring the iron and steel industry under public ownership indicates that the Government are a weak and incompetent Government with no confidence in their ability to control industry even with all the powers at their disposal. They are degenerating into a totalitarian Government. They must have physical possession of industry, just as the Soviet have possession of men's minds and bodies. It seems to me that is a dangerous path to tread. The Government must own something so that it may be able to govern it. That is what the policy really means.
I sometimes wonder whether the Government realise that the success which attended Britain's massive industrial effort during the war was brought about by the magnificent co-operation between private enterprise industries throughout the country and the Government Departments concerned. Exactly the same thing applies to commodity rationing by the Board of Trade, the Ministry of Food, and other Departments. It is not the Government Departments which make a success of it; they do a good job and we pay a tribute to them for doing so. It is the importers, the wholesalers, and the little shopkeepers up and down the country who make these schemes a success. I am certain that the steel industry is perfectly capable of carrying out the instructions of this Government or any Government, in regard to the control of prices, production, distribution and all the essential controls required at a time like this.
I resent the action of the Government in creating boards for the purpose of running nationalised industries. It seems to me that, by so doing, they are evading direct responsibility. We in this House know how they deny us the right to ask Questions about nationalised industries. When we ask Questions we are told that it is a matter of day-to-day administration, and, when we complain, we are further told that such matters can be raised on Supply Days. But Supply Days were not granted to Parliament for that purpose. I remember, in a previous Parliament, members of the Labour Party, speaking from the benches which we now occupy, getting up day after day and asking Questions about the coalmining and other industries. Today, we are barred from doing that.
I believe that the reason why the Government are obliged to shelter behind boards is that the men who compose the Government are entirely without business experience. I have read the short biographies of members the Government, and they reveal careers of great merit. However, they clearly indicate that His Majesty's Ministers have no experience in running industrial or commercial undertakings, either on their own account or as directors, or even at management levels. In the Lord President's biography I note that at one period of his outstanding career he was the deputy circulation manager of a newspaper, and I am certain that he was first class at his job. It was the first great Socialist newspaper, the "Daily Citizen," which was owned by a public company called Labour Newspapers Ltd. It had a capital of £150,000 which was subscribed by trade unions and by devoted Socialist men and women who invested their savings in it. The Board was composed of the leading Socialist Members of Parliament of the day—Mr. Ramsay MacDonald, Mr. Arthur Henderson, Mr. J. R. Clynes, Mr. G. H. Roberts, Mr. C. W. Bowerman, Mr. John Hodge, supported by Mr. Ben Riley and Mr. Bruce Glasier. The manager and secretary was Mr. Clifford Allen, afterwards Lord Allen of Hurtwood.
None of these eminent men knew anything about running a newspaper, just as the present Government know nothing about running the steel industry. As a result of their lack of knowledge and experience, the paper had only a brief life of two and a half years, and the money subscribed was lost owing to the incompetence of the board of management. The paper was staffed with competent journalists and printers, selected, presumably, for their knowledge and not for their politics. That brilliant artist, Mr. Tom Webster, was the cartoonist.
No, Sir, I should require notice of that question. However, I can tell the House that in my lifetime, I have known nothing like this tragedy of the "Daily Citizen," and I think the House should be told something about it at a time like this when vast schemes of nationalisation are being embarked upon. As I say, the failure of that newspaper was entirely due to the fact that the board of directors were elected because of their political prominence and not because of their knowledge of the job.
Nothing is too late when the Government are on the eve of creating the colossal blunder of taking over a craft industry. We may not feel so deeply about the taking over of a public utility, but when it comes to a craft industry it is another matter, and that is why I am speaking as I am today.
The hon. Member began this argument on the question whether Ministers were competent to run these industries. Surely the hon. Member knows that there is no suggestion that Ministers should run any of these industries. Surely he understands that direction of policy is quite different from running the industries, which none of the Ministers wants to do or would do.
The hon. Member and I will have to agree to differ on that. I have been in business for over 40 years, at management level most of the time, and I object to any man endowed with responsibilities evading responsibility. The Postmaster-General does not evade his responsibility to this House.
When we get to the Second Reading of the Steel Bill I shall be glad to express my views if I am successful in catching Mr. Speaker's eye. My point is that the failure of the "Daily Citizen" was entirely due to incompetent and inexperienced direction and management by the board who were elected because of their political prominence. Within 12 months of starting, when the paper was losing heavily, the board decided to publish in Manchester as well as Fleet Street in order that the faithful from Land's End to John o' Groats could have the paper on their breakfast table every morning. That was an amazing decision. It immediately doubled the loss and shortened the life of the paper. It had taken the "Daily Mail," staffed and directed by men who started slinging ink at the bottom, 30 years to get to the stage when they could think of opening in Manchester and duplicating all their expenses. However, these reckless Socialist politicians took this step, with disastrous results.
Here is another incident which I have been able to dig up. Circulation was a problem facing the Lord President in his capacity as deputy circulation manager, and it was greatly hindered by a decision of the board against the publication of horse-racing news. The board were pressed to change their decision, and they agreed to do it with one dissentient who was a strong man and exercised a Russian-like veto on the rest of the board. He proposed that instead of publishing horse racing news, which the working man wanted irrespective of his politics, a canvass should be made of the nonconformist Bethels to which this strong' man belonged, because he believed the circulation could he made up in that way. All the time the paper was losing £2,000 a week. That canvass took three months and it proved that the vetoer was wrong. All that time the paper was being driven to ruin.
I know nothing at all about Richard Crittall's. [Laughter.] I am rather surprised that that should be a subject for laughter. I have not said anything about Richard Crittall's. Hon. Members are very easily amused. I am talking about this Socialist failure because I genuinely believe that there is a great lesson to be learned by hon. and right hon. Members opposite if they study the facts which I have given. It is interesting to note that since those days when that newspaper went under so quickly, the Socialists have shown wisdom in entrusting the publication of their present newspaper to a capitalist concern which is run by——
I am suggesting something which the hon. Gentleman must know well, that the steel industry should be left alone in the competent hands which have raised it to the proud position in which it is serving our country so well today.
The unhappy story of the "Daily Citizen" is worthy of the serious attention of hon. Gentlemen opposite at this time when they have unbridled power. They should call a halt to their schemes of public ownership until they have more experience and until they give the people a chance of expressing their views on the continuance of a policy which is fraught with peril.
I value my seat as an hon. Member of this House and I value the traditions of this House. They have not, in my respectful view, been greatly enhanced this afternoon. The right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) has talked of the general' Debate on the Address as the grand inquest of the nation. Today, we have had something approaching an inquest on this House. I listened to the speech of the right hon. Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) for 45 pained and painful minutes without finding out whether he was in favour of nationalisation or not. So far as I can understand—I want to represent faithfully what he said—he is in favour of some method of controls which would leave the directors free to take the profits and would provide for the possibility of the nation indemnifying them against loss.
I have listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Streatham (Sir D. Robertson). So far as I could follow him —I followed with the greatest possible difficulty—he occupied the House for some 20 minutes in referring to some curious example of private enterprise in the newspaper industry which had a board of directors, the names of some of which sounded familiar. The only one which I recognised was that of a distinguished Conservative Prime Minister. What that has to do with the problems of the day, with the terms of the Amendment and with whether we should nationalise or not, I do not know, but out of courtesy to the hon. Member, as he does not seem to know the facts I have a copy of the last issue of the "Daily Citizen" and I can tell him that it terminated its short but very valuable and enterprising existence at the time of the paper shortage during the first World War when many other newspapers were also being terminated.
It might be desirable if I tried to bring the Debate back to the terms of the Amendment which is rather in terms of "The mixture as before." We have it in some such form in the course of the Debate on the Gracious Speech from the Throne at the opening of each Session. The only difference is that the measure of nationalisation which the Tories are then condemning is the one which is about to take place. It is that one which will be a disaster to the country, and it is always that one to which shortly afterwards the Tories say they do not really object. They have a curious "phobia" about nationalisation as a whole, and it it always the next measure of nationalisation which will be serious.
I could never quite understand this phobia about nationalisation. In their time the Tories have had their mildly progressive moments and have nationalised many propositions, such as the roads. One very enterprising Tory gets up time after time from a seat in this House and advocates wiping out the remaining toll gates, one of the last remaining classic examples of private enterprise. That enterprise is remunerative and no one has any work to do or any worry. We now get Tories who have become so progressive under Labour influence that they are anxious to wipe out that form of enterprise. Roads, water, and public services of all kinds have come under nationalisation under Tory and Liberal Governments. There is really no issue of principle at all to discuss. It is merely a question of the desirability of the particular institution. At the same time it is right that the House should remember that the Tory attitude towards each particular item of nationalisation has been different as it was approached from when it was discussed and when it was passed.
The first example was the nationalisation of the Bank of England. My hon. Friends will remember that that was attacked up and down the country as a grave encroachment of the liberty of the subject, as a great disaster coming, as threatening financial bankruptcy to the nation, and involving grave interferences with human rights. On the Debate on the Second Reading the hon. Member for South Edinburgh (Sir W. Darling), who I am glad to see in his seat and who no doubt has forgotten his indiscretion said:
The subject of this Bill is a great institution which has passed into proverbial language, and has been referred to throughout the world in the phrase, 'As safe as the Bank of England.' I think we are saying goodbye' today to that…".—"[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th December, 1945; Vol. 417, c 1389.]
Do Tories say it anywhere now? I imagine that possibly the hon. Member for South Edinburgh would. The hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Pitman), whom we regard as being more careful in his statements, said in the same Debate:
I am against the Bill … the Bill is wrong in principle because it takes away something good, the freedom of people to work freely and do a good job because they wish to do it. Secondly, the Bill is unnecessary because on all sides it is agreed that the full powers which the Treasury has had have worked in such a way that the country has had the financial policy of the Chancellors of the Exchequer whom it has put into power."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 19th December. 1945; Vol. 417, c. 1380.]
We had a little recent evidence on that point which I regard as of more significance. Sir James Grigg has recently given us the privilege of reading his reminiscences. No hon. Member opposite would dispute the fact that Sir James Grigg is a tried and trusted and crusty Tory. [Interruption.] I understand that is denied, and that he never paid his penny a week. However, even if he is not genuine vintage port, at least throughout his term of office he was port type. In his reminiscences Sir James Grigg refers to the occasion when the right hon. Member for Woodford was Chancellor of the Exchequer and came to the conclusion that a proposal by the Bank of England to increase the bank rate would be adverse to the interests of the business community, adverse to the interest of the country, and would produce something approaching national disaster. So the right hon. Member for Woodford, with that courage which we associate with his name, at once tackled the man who in his person controlled then the whole power of the Bank of England.
At that time one man was the Bank of England and no one ever disputed what he said. What Mr. Montagu Norman said today, the Bank of England did tomorrow. Today there is the Treasury, there is the Board, there is an organisation for the exchange of views. We are not told by Sir James precisely what Mr. Montagu Norman said—it would be interesting to know—but we are told what he did. The right hon. Member for Woodford said he was not to increase the bank rate. Mr. Montagu Norman increased it the next day, and blow the City and blow the commercial institutions, and let the thing go bang. That was the man's policy.
What were the drastic steps taken by the right hon. Member for Woodford on that occasion? How did he deal with that great crisis? He took—in fairness to him—the severest step open to him; he always after that date, according to Sir James, referred to Mr. Montagu Norman as Mr. Skinner. Faced with a similar possibility having regard to the necessity of permanence in our institutions, the stability of our financial policy, we nationalised the Bank. And the moment we had done it, our Tory friends went wandering round the country saying, "There is nothing in it, it is just an alteration of name. We have never minded that at all." And what the hon. Member for Bath said was not of importance, and what the hon. Member for South Edinburgh says, of course, none of us ever take any notice of. The whole thing was pleasantly washed away as one of those minor indiscretions.
Then we come to the question of civil aviation. On the Debate on the Second Reading on the Bill for Civil Aviation we had the good fortune to have the Bill under the control of the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Ivor Thomas), who was then a passionate advocate of nationalisation and made a speech in this House which we all remember as the Vasco da Gama speech. He opened, with that rather pleasant and slightly ineffective charm which we all like and admire, in these words:
Seldom have I known the Conservatives bathed in such inspissated gloom as they have been this afternoon.…"
Of course that was some time ago and he had not seen them today—
No doubt they expected the nationalisation of the Bank of England and of the coal industry, but it obviously came to them as a great surprise—though I do not know why—that civil aviation should be brought into public ownership and control.
Then, as my hon. Friends will remember, the hon. Member for Keighley lashed himself into welter of enthusiasm and approached a peroration, of a length and diversity which the House has never heard before, in the course of which he said:
The vote which we shall take tonight is symbolic of the passing of an age. We are living in a period of transition which is not less revolutionary than the Renaissance…Today, over a wide field, private enterprise has exhausted its utility and become a stumbling block to economic advance. In the new Renaissance the new
and potent instruments which science has placed in the hands of man are matched by a new and fruitful principle, the principle of public enterprise based on the service of the many instead of the private profit of the few; a principle which is as much in advance of private enterprise, as private enterprise was of the feudal guild."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th May, 1946; Vol. 422, cc. 716, 717, 727 and 728.]
Of course since then we have seen the hon. Member for Keighley himself in a state of transition. I am sorry if I must devote, necessarily, a few personal words on the subject. I hope with his literary knowledge he will understand me if I say that I approach this subject in the same spirit of reluctant distaste with which Thomas Babington Macaulay commenced his essay upon the poems of Mr. Robert Montgomery. I think it right to say that in the course of the history of this House many hon. Members have crossed the Floor, some for good reasons, some for bad, some reluctantly, and some casting a last long, lingering look behind at their old colleagues and friends.
Never before, as far as I recollect, in the history of this House has an hon. Member crossed the Floor with a hired band playing martial tunes and cheering himself hoarse on the way. Never before have we seen the spectacle of an hon. Member getting up and assaulting his old colleagues in the opening speech in the first day when he takes his seat upon the opposite bench, and I think we are entitled to ask the hon. Member for Keighley, as now the acknowledged voice of the benches opposite, when these particular doubts about nationalisation arose, and when they came to his mind. Did they arise when he was in office or did they arise after he had left office? I can well understand that the one doubt to which he gave expression in his speech of last week may well have arisen in some moment of introspective self-contemplation while he was in office himself —that was the doubt about the competence of His Majesty's Ministers. When did doubts about nationalisation start?
Since the hon. Gentleman has asked me a direct question, I have always been in favour of the nationalisation of the Bank of England, the coal, gas and electricity industries and the railways. I have not changed my views. I have never been in favour of nationalisation in general, and all my friends of the Labour Party have known it.
This raises matters upon which I am sure the House will desire a little enlightenment. The hon. Member for Keighley won a seat representing a large and important constituency. If I may refer his attention to one fact which I think of some importance in this matter, the only persons to whom he has made no reference up to now are the people who gave him a 17,000 majority in Keighley and who, no doubt, are waiting anxiously to hear this exposition of his views.
Politically, his career bears a very great resemblance to the career of the famous Lord Lundy—
Towards the age of twenty-six,
They shoved him into politics;
In which profession he commanded
The income that his rank demanded
In turn as Secretary for
The Colonies and Civil Air,
And finally there came a threat,
To oust him from the Cabinet.'
The hon. Member for Keighley was never in the Cabinet but he was a member of the Government, and I think the House is entitled to know from him whether these doubts commenced while he was a member of the Government or the moment he got the sack.
The hon. Member obviously has not heard what I said. I told him that I have not changed my views upon nationalisation. I have never been an advocate of nationalisation in general. It is not my nature to advocate doctrinaire policy at all. I have been in favour of the public ownership of certain industries.
I do not know what the word "doctrinaire" means in this connection. Frankly, we all like the hon. Member for Keighley. He has always seemed to me to be a man who always knows who's who but never knows what's what. So far as I can see it, the answer he has given makes that situation quite clear. The issue of the last election was fought upon the issue we are discussing today. It was fought upon the nationalisation of the means of production and the means of distribution, and upon the nationalisation of the steel industry which was particularly mentioned. The hon. Member for Keighley says that he has never altered his views. We cannot at the moment discuss the important matter of the House of Lords, except in so far as it is necessary to enable the next measure of nationalisation, which we are now discussing, to go through. Last week the hon. Member said that he voted for the first Bill, had abstained from voting for the second Bill and will vote against the third Bill; now he assures the House he has never altered his mind.
Perhaps I may be allowed to add to what I said then. On the first occasion we did not know that the object of the Parliament Bill was to get the Steel Bill through. We know it now. I have no great objection to the contents of the Parliament Bill but I have the greatest 'objection to its purpose and the methods by which it was introduced.
If that be so, it is perhaps just as well that the hon. Member has found his home on the benches opposite. He must have been the only Member on these benches—or, indeed, on any benches—who did not know the precise object for which the Parliament Bill was introduced.
Is the hon. Member aware that the Lord President of the Council deliberately and authoritatively stated from the benches opposite that the Parliament Bill in any of its stages had nothing whatever to do with the Steel Bill and was never intended to? Will the hon. Member therefore, repudiate the Lord President of the Council and cross the Floor of the House?
The hon. Member for Wood Green (Mr. Baxter) has twice corrected me for my manners and has justified my giving way to him by now making a grave error of his own. He did not allow me to finish my sentence and stopped me with such an air of decision, importance and importunacy that I gave way to him, as is my custom. I said that the hon. Member for Keighley must be the only person who did not know the purpose for which the Parliament Bill was introduced. It was introduced precisely because the House of Lords had the power, under the existing system, to make legislation by a Socialist Government inoperative for two years before a General Election, and it was necessary, therefore, to introduce it so that we could proceed with all the items in our legislative programme, whatever they might then be, including in this instance, as we now know, the nationalisation of steel.
In that case why were we Labour candidates not told so at the last election, and why did not "Let us Face the Future" include a clear statement that the Parliament Bill would be introduced?
As a matter of fact, it did. Perhaps there is even more that the hon. Member for Keighley might tell us. But much protesting, I would remind him, is usually rather a sign of guilt. He should remember that in this party we have the singularly democratic institution of party meetings. As he knows, these meetings are held quite frequently, often weekly, and in private, although from time to time there is a certain amount of public attention to them. I read the paper to which last week he contributed an article, at the end of which he decided not to accept his fee—I admire his discretion in that connection—and I should have thought that the hon. Member must have read in the "Evening Standard" of Labour Party meetings. Would he tell the House whether he has ever gone to these meetings and protested about the nationalisation of steel or has ever indicated that he has doubts about nationalisation?
If I may beg the indulgence of the House once again, let me say this. I have been told that such a meeting was held. I was not aware of it. I think I must have been abroad at the time. As hon. Members know, in the year 1946–47 I had to spend six months abroad on official business.
I am very sorry that the hon. Member was not informed because, had he gone there and heard the extremely intelligent views which were expressed, they might have affected his own views. I think it right, too, that I should call the hon. Member's attention to the fact that his views have altered very rapidly in the last fortnight. If I might say so, I think he has had the most sudden conversion since that of St. Paul. He opened this particular argument by writing to "The Times" and saying that in the interests of the maintenance in power of the present Government, in the interests——
I have misquoted the hon. Member, and I accept that his words are not precisely those which I wish to use;
but because of the dangerous future, because of the conditions now mentioned, if he likes, in the Amendment which we are now discussing, it was desirable that there should be a cessation of controversy. [Interruption.] Well, the hon. Member will have read his speech of last week and found out whether there was a cessation of controversy. Does he feel that some of the references he made to some of his old colleagues and friends were in the interests of maintenance and respect for the Government of His Majesty's Dominions at this grave period of our history and at this time of crisis. I must now leave this subject, and I do so with pleasure. I can only say that
We shall march prospering, not through his presence;
Songs may inspirit us—not from his lyre.
I must turn to other subjects of nationalisation which remain to be discussed. Because of interruptions I apologise for dealing with them briefly. The hon. Member for Bosworth (Mr. A. Allen), whom I am pleased to see in his place, represents the constituency in which I was born and in which I have lived all my life. He represents it a great deal better than any hon. Member I can ever remember. I was very happy to hear the tribute he paid to the Leicestershire miners and to progress under nationalisation. I hope he will forgive me for saying that in concluding his speech he omitted, I think, to point out one very brief and significant thing about his figures—that the Leicestershire coalfield is one in which there has been considerable mechanisation. It is the coalfield in which there are wider scams than in many other districts, in which the means of egress to the mine are better than in other places.
It is only right that I should say this in fairness to miners elsewhere. It is right, too, that I should say it in fairness to the National Coal Board, because there is the coalfield in which their work can have the most immediate effect and which can earliest show the results that other coalfields will be able to show as the progress of mechanisation develops and reorganisation continues. Having lived all my life amongst coalminers I have nothing for which to apologise in the nationalisation of the coal industry.
The one subject which the right hon. Member for Southport omitted to mention was that of the coalminer. It is the sort of thing that happens a little too frequently for it to be other than the result of an attitude of mind. Miners' wages are higher; their hours of work are lower. Nobody can seriously suggest that they are over-paid or over-worked. His terms of compensation and his social services have been greatly increased. Life in the coal-mining villages today is vastly different to what it was even three years ago. The nationalisation of the coal industry has been justified abundantly by the peace in industry and the prosperity which is coming. It has been justified by the signs and portents of increasing production, increasing benefit and increasing happiness in these mining villages.
I have already spoken for longer than I had intended, and I apologise. I conclude with two short comments. No reference has been made by the right hon. Member for Southport to the White Paper on Distribution of Industry. When we talk about national controls and about planning, it is right perhaps that we should have regard to that White Paper which speaks of those areas that bore the heaviest difficulties, burdens and sufferings of Tory rule aggravated by a steel industry that moved its works away in the interests of profits. The hon. Member for Bosworth will remember that my father was managing director of an engineering works closed down in 1923 because of amalgamations with other firms which bought them to close them down. The older men living in the town of Coal ville which he now represents never worked again. In those areas which bore that heavy burden, we have now 800,000 more people working than in 1932. That is a great achievement. In health we remember the dubious patriotism of hon. Members opposite over that controversy on the National Health Service; we recall the eagerness to seek political advantage, the willingness to cause controversy with the members of a very great profession. As a result of our Health Service today there are people who have now got teeth to gnash about the misdeeds of the Tory Government who never had teeth while the Tories were in power. In Oldham today there is an old lady of 90 who started to read last week because she received a pair of spectacles to suit her eyes. These things are happening all over England. We see an ever-advancing standard of social insurance and social amenities under the work of this Government under a system of national control.
A few short weeks ago I was sitting in the lovely planned city of Canberra amongst the flowering fruit trees, and I had the honour of an interview with the Prime Minister of the Commonwealth of Australia, a man who sprang from the working classes, a man of great ability and distinction who can point to a higher standard of living and a greater measure of social control in his country and in the adjacent friendly Socialist country of New Zealand than is to be found anywhere in the world. I know that he will not be offended if I repeat one observation that he made to me. As it came from such a man, I bring it back with glowing pride. He said that the spectacle of Great Britain alone in Europe, almost alone in the world, shouldering the burdens of Atlas, shouldering the problems of the world, still exercising throughout the world a moral influence, controlling and planning her future and yet at the same time expanding and increasing in unprecedented manner the whole of her social services, was an inspiration to the peoples of the Commonwealth of Nations and an inspiration to the peoples of the world.
The hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Hale) has complained that our condemnation of the record of this Government was lukewarm. I trust that I may remedy any deficiency in that direction. First, I congratulate him on not following the course of action adopted by his other hon. Friends and not setting up self-pitying moaning about the attitude of the Press. If ever there was an unctuous, thin-skinned lot of people it is hon. Gentlemen opposite who climbed into power by saying the most vile things about their political opponents—not only about their policies but also their personalities. I note, however, that the hon. Gentleman intends to carry on the usual line of Socialist propaganda, namely, that it was they who introduced every social service into this country. The truth is that this Government have not introduced a single social service of their own which was not approved in principle by the Coalition Government.
The National Health Service was agreed to in principle by the Coalition Government and by the Conservative Party. What is more, the hon. Gentleman knows that. In this Debate we have two objectives. We are asked to approve the record of the Government over the last three and a half years and we are supposed to be showing our sense of blessing for things to come. We have had three and a half years of Socialism: I admit it seems very much longer. The plain truth is that the Government have failed utterly and completely in all the things that matter for the economic wellbeing of our people at home and our security abroad. Perhaps I am a little unkind to talk about utter and complete failure after the speech by the Chancellor of the Exchequer yesterday. The Government have certainly carried out their pre-war election pledges to liquidate the British Empire. More Union Jacks have come down in the last three years than went up in the previous 50. Are we to have a target for the liquidation of the Empire? Are we to be told what part is to be liquidated next? If so, it would be rather interesting to know when we shall come to the Isle of Wight.
I say that the Government have failed in everything that matters. They have failed to feed us as well as we were fed before and during the war—[interruption] I have no doubt that hon. Gentlemen opposite take great comfort from what the Minister of Food said yesterday about sweets and sugar. In the case of sweets, the Government have merely followed the advice given by Lord Woolton, and so far as sugar is concerned they have listened to the voice of the "Daily Express." Even so, we are told that we shall not be able to improve our standard of living until 1952—and that is if the target is reached. I may remind hon. Gentlemen opposite that on the whole they are not very good marksmen.
What does the housing record of the Government boil down to when it is stripped of the windy verbiage of the Minister? It is simply that today, with the same labour force as before the war, we are building roughly half the number of houses at three times the cost. Socialism has failed to maintain the value of the £ at home or to prevent a growing rise in prices. Soon the Government will be able to abolish all rationing and all points schemes. Goods will become so dear that rationing by the purse will become automatic. Not only have the Government failed to produce an efficient administration, they have failed to produce one which the country can afford. At the moment, in one way or another, the State and local authorities take 8s. 0d. in the £ of all our income. That is far beyond what the London School of Socialist Economics admits is possible in any State.
For the first time in our history we are mendicants. The symbol of Britain is no longer the proud trident of Britannia, but the begging bowl. One out of every four meals we eat today come to us from the bounty of the United States. There are nearly two million unemployed in this country today, but they have been exported, if not in body, in economics, to the public assistance authorities in America. [Laughter.] That is perfectly true. In foreign affairs we are barely a second class Power in our influence and in our strength. Countries like Argentina, Chile and Guatemala can challenge us with impunity, and today we are on the brink of a war with Russia. a country with whom hon. Members opposite claim to have a special spiritual affinity.
The outstanding failure of the Government in the last three and a half years is that they cannot persuade the British people—and I am not referring to any one class—to do a good week's work. Socialism is a creed which asks housewives to slave seven days a week so that the men can work for five. The Government have had the decency to admit that they have failed in that direction. The hoardings are plastered with posters making it perfectly clear that we have come to the end of our available resources in manpower and that unless we can get a greater amount of work out of each man this country cannot ever regain its independence.
We have heard a lot about the wicked pre-war days. The hon. Member for Oldham gave us another chapter out of that distorted history, but with all its failures——
I will tell the hon. Gentleman in a minute. With all its failures, it certainly did some things. It enabled this country to pay its way and stand on its feet. It did not ask women to stand for hours in queues. It provided us with food in the shops, and it made us a great Power respected throughout the world. It enabled this country when it went into the war, to stand on its own feet for two years, and it kept the British Empire intact as a great Power. With all its shortcomings, it brought home the bacon, both literally and metaphorically. What is the reason for this monumental failure of Socialism?
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman again, but he promised me faithfully that he would tell me at some suitable juncture in his speech what was the distortion which he alleged against me.
The hon. Gentleman suggested in his speech that no social services worth having had come into this country except under Socialism. That is a deliberate distortion of the facts.
Socialism is based upon a compendium of economic piffle. It believes that it is possible to get a quart of wages out of a pint pot of work. It says that hard work, initiative and enterprise are vices and not virtues. It believes that people can be taxed to death and at the same time be expected to work hard. It believes that the word "nationalisation" is a sort of holy incantation, and that one only has to mumble it often enough for the laws of economics to cease to flourish. May I remind hon. Members opposite of a famous saying by Benjamin Franklin:
Life's greatest tragedy is the murder of a beautiful theory by a gang of brutal facts.
That is exactly what is happening to this country.
What has this country got out of nationalisation? Who is a penny better off at this moment because we are shareholders of the Bank of England or Cable and Wireless? All we know about Cable and Wireless is that in the first year of nationalisation their profits were about half what they were under private enterprise. Why do not hon. Members opposite devote a whole of an hour's speech on a public platform trying to persuade the people how much they have benefited already under nationalisation? All the public knows is that prices have gone up, quality has gone down and they have lost the benefit of the consumer's choice. The only beneficiaries that I can see under nationalisation are sacked Cabinet Ministers and retired trade union officials. Every time a man buys a packet of cigarettes he pays an extra 3d. to make up for losses last year on the National Coal 'Board and also on civil aviation. That is a high price to pay for teaching hon. Gentlemen opposite the facts of life. When we consider that every passenger who travelled by B.O.A.C. last year cost the taxpayer over £60, it is obvious that it would have been far cheaper to have given the fellow £50 and sent him by train or to have bribed him to go by some other line, K.L.M. or Sabena.
If nationalisation and Socialism are all that they are cracked up to be, why do not the Socialist Party base their propaganda on it? Why do they say "Ask your dad"? I always thought that the Lord President of the Council was a very astute party manager. It is true that during the war the Minister of Health called him a third-rate Tammany boss; I thought it was a little unfair at the time—I thought he was no worse than a second-rate Tammany boss. Why do they say "Ask your dad"? Why is it necessary to justify the Government's record by talking about the wicked old Tories? Why not bellow out all the virtues and achievements of Socialism? This "Ask your dad" business might prove to be a bit of a boomerang. Dad might have a better memory than the Lord President of the Council imagines. He might remember the number of unemployed under the second Socialist Government. Dad might remember the Socialist Party's record on re-armament. In fact he might be a nasty-minded dad who might look in vain for the war ribbons on the bosoms of the hon. Gentlemen who are now asking his son to enlist in the Territorials. Why not "Ask mum"? Mum might remember when she could buy as many eggs as she liked for 1 ½d. each. She might remember when a child's frock cost 5s., and a few other things like that. I think this "Ask your dad" business may not turn out quite as the Lord President of the Council imagines.
What is the second reason for this monumental failure of Socialism? It is not only their fantastic economics, but I suggest it is the deliberate attack on the fundamentals of the British character. When people are asked to work harder, they can still hear the strident tones of the Minister of Food telling them that hard work is unnecessary and that no one benefits but the boss. The boss is still there, even in nationalised industries, even if he is happily ensconced in a country mansion. When people are asked to enlist in the Territorial Army they can still remember what the Chancellor of the Exchequer said when he talked about "patriotism and all its tomfoolery," and when they are told of the importance of the export trade they can still remember what the Minister of Health said and what the Minister of War said when he told us that exports were only a swindle of capitalists. How can hon. Members with this record expect the country to take them seriously?
There is no form of indigestion which is so difficult to cure as trying to swallow one's own words. Not even the Central Office of Information has been able to discover a brand of bicarbonate of soda which will cure it. Hon. Members opposite got into power by belittling all the real qualities upon which our survival depends. They sneered at patriotism, they ran down the British Empire, they decried hard work, they denigrated good manners, and put rights before duties. They have exalted the vulgarian and scrounger and made life safe for the spiv.
The only boast hon. Gentlemen opposite can make, and it was made just now, is that they have not done too badly in the by-elections. That does not surprise me in the least, and I would not recommend hon. Gentlemen opposite to draw too much consolation from it. For one thing the great electoral tides in this country have never in the past receded very quickly. But also, the Government and the country are living in a com pletely false sense of security. It is living on the combination of the American Loan and the pillaging of our national assets. The Government claim that the real wages of the working classes have gone up by 10 per cent. I doubt if it is true, but if it is true where has it come from? It certainly has not come from production. Half of it has come by eliminating the rich and also by reducing the standard of living of the middle classes by 20 per cent., and that is admitted in the White Paper.
We are selling our assets abroad, ranging from the sale of Argentine railways to the threat of selling H.M.S. "Ajax" to the Chileans. But we can only pawn the furniture once. Father Christmas can do quite well for a time if he is in alliance with Bill Sykes. The trouble is that he cannot keep it up. Hon. Gentlemen opposite, including the Lord President, are always harping on the Tories having no policy.
Well, I will tell them. May we ask, first of all, when we have got rid of all the windy verbiage, what is the policy of hon. Gentlemen opposite? So far as I can see, just as giant pandas can only live on bamboo shoots, so Socialism can only live on class hatred and a pathetic uncritical belief in nationalisation. What do their speeches mean, both in this House and on the public platform? Nothing, except the uncritical acceptance of nationalisation, interlarded with the usual envy and class hatred and the pulling down of people who have built up our British industry in the past. That is the beginning and end of Socialism.
The Lord President has asked what is the policy of the Conservative party? The first thing in our policy is to get rid of the Lord President himself, and all that he stands for, and to provide this country with what it needs more than anything else today. That is leadership and a competent, experienced and, if I may say so, a united Government. What we can do for this country is to provide it with a Prime Minister who can both lead and inspire at home and abroad; a Foreign Secretary who will restore our tattered prestige throughout the world; a Chancellor of the Exchequer who will reduce taxation and reduce the rising cost of living; a Minister of War who will by his words and personal record give confidence to the Army; a Minister of Food who knows something about business and a Minister of Health who will allow houses to go up as fast as they did before the war. That is the first plank in our policy. [Laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen opposite may think that amusing, I have no doubt that they do. But that is what the country wants today—a Government that can govern and one that can command self-respect.
We shall also do our best to revive the Parliamentary standard of good manners and tolerance towards our political opponents. Another thing we shall do is to restore national unity and put first things first. When we have done this, then we shall get on with our long-term plans for agriculture and house ownership—co-partnership in industry and also plans for Empire development that are not restricted by doctrinaire Socialism. That is our policy and on that policy I am prepared to fight a General Election. and the sooner the better.
The hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Gammans) said, "This is the policy that people want." I cannot help wondering. if that was the case, why they do not vote for it. They have had opportunity after opportunity to turn out, or to refuse to send to this House, Members of the Labour party and they have not taken that opportunity. I was reading the life of William Graham the other day and I find in it a reference to a Government, I think it was the 1933 Government, which lost 46 seats before the General Election. So far as I know there was no admission at that time that that Government had lost public confidence. It was taken almost for granted, as it has been by past Governments, that people always blame the Government. It is the automatic thing that people who are discontented with anything should blame the Government and take the opportunity of a by-election to vote against it.
It is a surprising thing and one about which every Labour Member ought to feel very proud, that during these unparalleled times of sacrifice and shortage —due to our success in the war and the fact that we threw everything we had into winning the war—we have been able to preserve the confidence of the masses of the people. The hon. Member for Hornsey spoke about social services and said that we were all jointly responsible for them as a Coalition Government. I agree that the plans were drawn up for most of these and that they were elucidated in the White Paper issued by the Coalition Government. But does anybody in this House, or anybody at all, think if there had been a Conservative Government today with all the shortages, that they would have said the time was now opportune to bring in these social services? Why was there the controversy over Sir Kingsley Wood the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, bringing into operation the Children's Allowances Bill, when he steadfastly refused to give any promise of its implementation and the present Lord President of the Council had to go on hands and knees and plead with the Labour Benches to allow the Bill to go through without a date of implementation?
All right, but at that very time they were receiving Lend-Lease. The reason was that he refused to commit the Government. He said it in so many words—I was not in the House but I read HANSARD—"I am not prepared to commit the Government, because we do not know what the financial position of the country will be at the end of the war." Hon. and right hon. Members opposite have taunted us with having done some of these things. They have rebuked us for raising the school leaving age. Hon. Members opposite have made speeches saying that we ought not to have raised the school-leaving age at a time when there was a shortage of labour. I am more proud of our record with regard to school children than I am of anything else in the record of the Labour Government. We are turning out healthier children. Weight for weight and age for age, our children today are one and a half pounds heavier and from half an inch to three-quarters of an inch taller compared with 1938. It must be remembered that this is a time of shortage, when complaints are being made that we cannot get the food we need, but with schemes for free milk and free school meals we have been able to do that. We are told that much of this is vote catching. That is why I am so proud of our record in regard to school children, because they have no votes and we cannot be taunted with vote catching in their case.
It was said by the Lord President of the Council that nationalisation must prove itself. I suggest that when the Opposition put down an Amendment the responsibility is on them to try to prove their case. I have listened to every speech on this Amendment and heard no case put forward for it. I heard several speeches which did not even mention the Amendment. There was an interesting disquisition on the "Daily Citizen," but I ask hon. Members to look up the records of the" Liverpool Daily Courier," which was ended at 24 hours' notice.
Men who had worked for 30 and 40 years on the staff of that paper were thrown on the streets without any notice whatever. This has nothing to do with the Amendment, but the subject was brought in by a previous speaker.
A great deal of the Debate on nationalisation tonight is unreal; the real debate took place at the General Election. We fought out the issues now before us at the General Election and convinced a majority of the people. I remember very well the night of the declaration of the poll, when I addressed a meeting of about 5,000 people and thanked them for having returned me—rather to my surprise. I said that if when the next General Election came round I was not able to tell them that we had fulfilled the pledges made, I did not deserve to be sent back a second time as their representative. I suggest that our Party are creating political history in treating election promises seriously. "Let us Face the Future" was discussed by three Labour Party Conferences, carefully thought out, and a lot of things were rejected because we thought it would not be possible to implement them in five years. We meant business and told the people, "If you give us a mandate to carry out these Measures, we promise that it will be implemented." When canvassing one so often had the reply that it did not much matter how people voted; it made no difference. That is why politics were in such low repute before the Labour Party came to power. The people were used to politicians making all kinds of wild promises to them at election time and then forgetting all about them until the next General Election came round.
We have created history; we have gone to the people with a programme and when the next General Election comes we shall be able to go to them and say, "We have done it." I hope and believe we shall then be able to present them with another programme. The people will know when they vote for or against us that we mean business and that if we go to them with a programme it is going to be implemented, or they can turn us out. That is democracy. I quite agree that if the Opposition were able to say tonight that that was three and a half years ago and the circumstances have changed so that there is no reason for us to implement this particular part of our programme, we would listen to what they had to say.
I listen as well as I can to what the Opposition say and if they were able to put a reasoned case of changed circumstances since 1945 we should be willing to listen. But has there been such a change? Have they put up a case which shows that, having nationalised other industries, we ought not to nationalise the steel industry? The only argument they can put forward is that this is not a bankrupt industry. How long has it been the rule that we should only nationalise bankrupt industries, and, if so, why do the Opposition reproach us that these industries are showing losses? They suggest that industries must be bankrupt or we are not justified in taking them over and then, when we take them over, they reproach us because the industries do not make an immediate profit. I think we should take over some of the prosperous industries and I have one or two in mind for consideration at the next election.
On the question of coal, I do not think the price matters two pence. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] No, coal is so vital, not only to Britain but to Europe, that it is worth double the price. I have visited countries in Europe which are getting coal from Poland on the Russians' terms. The price is a minor matter——
I do not agree at all. Coal decides the price of a number of articles, but it is so vital at present that price is secondary to the amount of coal produced. I am sure that is the view of many European countries. I have discussed it even with Prime Ministers of two European nations and that is the view they expressed although, naturally, they would like to get coal as cheaply as possible. The fact is that we could not have got a successful coal industry today unless it was nationalised. Two questions stood out which were absolutely demanding solution. One was coal and the other was India. The Leader of the Opposition has a view in regard to India which I do not believe any other responsible Member of his own party holds. We were absolutely compelled, morally and in every way, to give India self-government. In regard to coal I maintain that if the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) and his party had been returned to power, they would have been compelled by the logic of events to nationalise the industry. I do not think they could have resisted it.
I am an ex-railway man and the railways are the subject I know most about. I happen to have been a trade union negotiator and I have been watching the developments of the nationalisation of the railway industry with very great interest. It has not finished its first year yet. We have a number of criticisms, which we shall voice. I believe that every speech I have made in this House has been partly critical as well as partly in praise of my own Government. On these benches we do not want a lot of vote-catching machines. We like people to use their minds and to say what they think.
A great many of our people are disappointed that they have not been given a greater share in the control of the railway industry. There is a great demand on the part of the workers in various industries, particularly those brought forward for nationalisation to be given a greater share in the control of industry. I believe there is a genuine attempt on the part of Sir Cyril Hurcombe, Chairman of the Transport Commission, and members of the Commission and members of the Railway Executive Committee to try to bring the workers in that industry into consultation. In the old days I was present at meetings of the Railway Staff Conference and of the General Managers' Conference. I have also been present at nearly all the meetings of the new Executive Staff Committee and I see a great improvement indeed. There is a new spirit abroad, and as far as we are concerned, we believe that nationalisation has meant a tremendous change for the workers in the industry. We have not solved all our problems by any means, but we are on the right way. Because of having nationalisation we can bring in a spirit of co-operation to a far greater extent than we could before nationalisation.
One more criticism—and it is on the question of the control of the House of Commons over the new industries. I agree on this with the Opposition—I do not know whether it is from the same motive—and I feel a great deal of perturbation at the way we are setting up public corporations without any direct control by Parliament. I hope that the Lord President of the Council, for whose mind and thinking I have very great respect, will read my words on this question. Under private enterprise there was a board of directors, though they may not have been very effective. I attended one meeting of a board of directors and I was not struck with it. However, there was the board of directors and the shareholders' meeting once a year. That was at any rate some form of control. We are abolishing the board of directors and are setting up a public corporation, but we are not going to have an equivalent board of directors, which is this House of Commons. In the ultimate the corporation must be controlled by the House.
If we are to meet with a refusal from you, Mr. Speaker, when we seek to put down Questions on the working of these various public corporations, I fail to see where any control whatsoever is being exercised. This is a very great danger and there is a need for some way whereby democracy will be able to exercise its control. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Ivor Thomas) is not here because when he spoke the other day he referred to a servile State. That is always the real danger. Let us face it. The more we go in for public ownership, the greater the danger of a servile nation unless we have adequate control.
I have had a great deal of experience in local government. I have been chairman of a number of committees and have seen the workings of these organisations. It is a microcosm of the national position. Permanent officials will run the show so long as there are weak Ministers—Ministers who are not prepared to take over the reins of control but who permit their permanent officials to control matters. In such a situation there is the danger of a servile State. However, if there are people who are alive to their job there is no danger. The exercising of that control needs a live Ministerial person and it also needs a live House of Commons. It is up to us to see that a measure of control is exercised.
Finally, I wish to refer to something which has been agitating my mind. On these benches we have got to admit a disappointment over one of our theories. The hon. Member for Hornsey spoke about the tragedy of a theory killed by a fact. Here is one. I am disappointed at the fact that what I have advocated on public platforms for the last 25 years, that if we nationalise an industry the people in that industry would work harder because they were working for the State than they would if they were working for a private employer, has not altogether worked out. I believed that, as did my hon. Friends on these benches. I do not know what my hon. Friends feel about it now, but I am very much disappointed that we have not had the results one would expect. We have had some increases. My hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth (Mr. A. Allen) gave us some figures of the increase in production in the Leicester-shire coalfields, but there is a great need for something else.
I want to suggest that we are losing in the Labour movement that great dynamic, spiritual urge that was the basis of the movement under Keir Hardie and his friends in the early days. We are so interested in the mechanics and the machinery of our nationalisation programme that we are losing sight of the real basis of it—the moral and spiritual urge—that underlies all our activities. There is a need for us to get back to the Christian basis of our movement in order that we can still have the joy and comfort of doing things for a moral reason rather than merely for doctrinaire beliefs.
So far as I am concerned I have seen something happening in Europe, in America and in Britain in the shape of the Moral Rearmament Movement which both sides of this House, and particularly the Front Benches, ought to look into. I have seen Prime Ministers of various countries very impressed by plays which they went to see and where they met the people running this Movement. A few nights ago at The Hague the Prime Minister of Holland with almost all the Members of his Cabinet went to see a play which these people were producing. I have seen this new spirit working in the coalfields of Britain and in South Wales and it is having a great effect, converting even Communists. I have known nothing else to do that, but I have known members of the Communist Party being so impressed with this Movement that they dropped their belief in Communism and become even greater revolutionaries in the cause of Jesus. The sooner we get back to this old-fashioned remedy for most of our evils, the sooner will there be that greater progress in the way we desire to travel.
Mr. Michael Asto:
Although I, personally, am not an advocate of Moral Rearmament as a motive force or religion, I would say that the hon. Member for Walton (Mr. Haworth) raised a very interesting point on the matter of incentives and moral values, particularly in considering the extent to which the State is assuming control in the affairs of the individual. He also raised an extremely interesting point which no hon. Member on either side of the House has been able to solve, and that is how Parliament, which was devised to legislate, can possibly run the detailed business of our industries. Neither the Government side nor its critics have been able to find an answer to that. I can only say that if the hon. Member continues intellectually and politically in the same vein he will soon, of necessity, find himself a critic and an opponent of the present Government. The hon. Member rather took the wind out of my sails in that I had certain criticism to make of some of the things he said, when he stated that he knew very little about anything at all. That is an attitude of modesty which I rather applaud, and I am not trying to score a personal or party point in that connection at all.
At the beginning of his speech he concentrated on the point whether the Tory Party would have put through the social services to which they were pledged. I think it is a waste of time to discuss that matter. I would say that they would have done so while hon. Members opposite say they would not, from which we would get no further. The hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot) asked us why we opposed certain social services sponsored by the present Government, and the hon. Member for Walton answered that when he talked about certain criticism from this side of the House about the school-leaving age. There are certain critics in this party on the question of the opportuneness of raising the school-leaving age at the moment, but that does not mean we as a party are opposed to the Butler Education Act. One could apply the same argument to the various social services which were drawn up by the Coalition Government and were tampered with, altered, and, in our opinion, largely ruined by the present Administration.
The hon. Member made a point which I had heard before when he said that this Debate was largely redundant because it had all taken place at the General Election. We know what the Labour Party thinks. The whole thing is theoretical. It was theoretical in 1945 apparently, and it has still to be judged upon a theoretical basis. I rather thought that this Debate was to discuss the merits of nationalisation and to see whether the evidence was there for a continuation in that process. The hon. Member made a further point. He said that he and his friends would be able to go to the country and say that they had carried out their pledges. His cry was to be "We've done it" and I suggest he adds the words "and you've had it." On this matter of consistency I have something to say later in my speech.
What a very different Debate this is from the earlier Debates. I remember the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster saying to this House: "We must get ahead and nationalise our industries because of the great benefits which will accrue to the public, because things will be cheaper while overheads will be reduced. It is the only sensible thing to do." Now the Chancellor, with his back to the wall, has been defending nationalisation because "it has not cost the public so very much." That is quite a different story. Merely because it will not cost the taxpayer or the consumer much more is no reason, as I have understood the matter, for nationalising an industry. As a party, we have always said that nationalisation must be treated on its merits.
The Chancellor of the Duchy used, as I expected him to do, certain completely dishonest arguments in this matter. He was talking about the coal industry and the reason why it showed a deficit in its balance sheet in the early stages of nationalisation. He said it was caused by the need for capital re-equipment of various kinds. He went on to the next industry—Cable and Wireless—and said that we could still use certain services much more cheaply than could the Americans. He said that the Americans had had, under private enterprise a deficit in the balance sheet for the past year in respect of the Western Union Telephone Service. That was an unfair argument, because it contained a half-truth. The Western Union Telephone Service in the United States has had to go in for a great deal of capital re-equipment for exactly the same reason as the Chancellor gave in the case of the coal industry. With Western Union it was largely due to wear and tear during the war. I suggest to the Chancellor of the Duchy that in turning these corners a bit fast and trying to wriggle out of his position he ought at least to apply a modicum of intellectual integrity to the relative arguments in hand.
I have noticed that the Labour Party are consistent in many ways. There is no intrinsic merit in consistency itself and in politics consistency is not necessarily a merit. When I look at the history of the Labour Party and then at the present Gracious Speech I remember what the Labour Party has done since it first formed a government in this country, in the first Ramsay MacDonald administration. I see three tendencies in the Labour Party and if we consider those tendencies we can but adopt certain conclusions as to where Socialism will ultimately carry us. The first tendency we see, then as now, is the old myth that the Labour Party can get on quite well with the Soviet Union, the workers' paradise, etc., etc. This argument is not one which may suit the Foreign Secretary at this moment. I will only say in passing that the rest of his Party are in this respect rather slow off the mark. My conclusion is that the Labour Party will inevitably come to an agreement with Russia if they continue on their present lines, but it will be upon the Soviet Union's own terms.
The second inclination which I saw in the first Labour Party was for the tail to wag the dog, that is to say for the extremist elements in the Party to exercise an influence in undue proportion to their numbers, over their own Front Bench. I see that tendency again today. It may not be a very large or fierce dog and it may not have a very large bark but the same thing is happening: and it will be bad if it goes unchecked. The extremist Left Wing element will eventually become the authentic and official voice of the Party. That has been the trend the whole time, and that is the conclusion we must draw.
The third trend, which we saw in Philip Snowden's first Socialist Budget, was the Labour Party's disinclination to facilitate for working men the ownership of their own houses. Now I see the trend carried a stage further. Very soon the question whether anybody should own his own house or business will be merely a matter of the past. Discussion will be concerned with the degree of criticism the individual will be allowed to voice as regards the public ownership of goods which were formerly held in private hands.
I did hope to criticise the speech made yesterday by the hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. Ellis Smith) and I have given him notice of this. I was going to take up certain points which he made. Unfortunately, however, I find that I cannot do that within the Rules of Order, except on two rather minor points. I have nothing personal against the hon. Member. I believe he meant what he said in the Debate yesterday. I do not believe that he is a fellow traveller but I think that he is the dupe of the sort of propaganda which the Communists are putting out at the moment.
The Chancellor of the Duchy said—and this relates to something which the hon. Member for Stoke said—in one of his remarks today that there was an alternative solution to the problem of unemployment in between the two wars. If he said anything at all, it was that we live and learn. I believe he was implying that it was not merely Marshall Aid which was keeping down our unemployment figures, but that it was the result of Socialist theory applied. If he says that, he is, not for the first time in his life, talking against the Lord President of the Council and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who frankly admit that were it not for Marshall Aid there would be one million and a half more unemployed in this country.
When considering the merits or demerits of nationalised industries we must remember the subsidy to employment and indeed to consumer goods which Marshall Aid is providing at the moment. I suggest to the hon. Member for Stoke that it is not helpful to refer to Marshall Aid in ungenerous terms as being a self-centred and mean act on the part of America. The right hon. Member the senior Burgess for Oxford University (Sir A. Salter) has answered that point adequately. I have been in Washington while those negotiations were going on. I am certain that Congress over there would never have passed Marshall Aid merely in the interests of their domestic budget. I am not saying that that would have been right or wrong. I personally think they would have been wrong in their own self interest, but the fact remains that they would not have passed Marshall Aid for solely internal reasons. It was largely an altruistic act in order to preserve what they regard as the British way of life, in the free countries of Europe.
That is why I am so distressed when I hear what I regard as utterly irresponsible talk going out. I would only suggest to the hon. Member—I cannot refer to his points one by one, much as I should like to—that he makes a comparison of behaviour between the United States and the Soviet Union from the first day of Lend-Lease, when Russia, having attacked Finland, was negotiating a treaty with Hitler, and that he carries that comparison through to the final stages of the war, when he will find in the United States there was pro-Russian propaganda and in Moscow anti-British and anti-American propaganda. I would like to see him take that comparison right through the whole course of the war and see whether he would not revise the conclusions he expressed last night.
Lastly the hon. Member for Stoke raised a point of extreme importance; indeed, it is of almost constitutional importance. I will try to recall the remarks which led up to it. The hon. Member was saying something which I thought was outrageous, to the effect that my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) was more a cause of international friction than anything else, and that the Labour Party believed in the brotherhood of mankind—who does not? —that we should revive the Peace Pledge Union, and that although the League of Nations Union has gone there was the United Nations Association, that in fact we should bury our heads in the sand and hope for the best. That is the sort of story the hon. Member told, based on the fact that the Labour Party want to be friends with everybody. At that point I could not stand his argument any longer, and I shouted out either "Drivel" or "Nonsense." The hon. Member replied," I will debate this outside in public, and we will see who is right." That is most interesting because it represents to my mind an entirely wrong conception of democracy.
The hon. Member was in fact saying that in this particular case matters of policy, whether they be foreign policy or domestic policy, should be decided by, in this case, the approval of 50 per cent. of the general public. That is legislation by Gallup Poll. which I would point out makes no allowance for leadership. In a democracy the mean level of intelligence in the general public is very average; it must be, or the word "average" would be quite meaningless. I suggest that the only proper system under which democracy can work at all is that once a party has been returned to power by a free and secret vote it should select from its members its brightest and most experienced people to set about defining its policy. That is the idea of leadership, choosing people who are a little better than the average.
I believe that what the hon. Member said illustrates a feeling which pervades the other side of the House. One sees it in the passing by the T.U.C. of resolutions against the Foreign Secretary. That is the way to make democracy a complete shambles, and if democracy becomes a shambles it will soon be replaced by a system of totalitarian government of the Left, which would make this whole discussion this evening one of entirely academic interest.
I believe that I can but I have not the reference at my finger tips. I was implying that a mass opinion on an intricate matter of policy was not the way to legislate—[An HON. MEMBER: "Greece."]—my hon. Friend mentions Greece, which I think should remind the hon. Member of the point I make——
I am trying to deal with a particular point which the hon. Member for Stoke raised, and which I think is of some constitutional importance. Whether we are discussing nationalisation in the past or the future, we should be clear about the principle of laying down policy. I am sorry that I cannot go into these detailed matters with the hon. Member for Rochdale (Dr. Morgan).
With regard to the reference to the steel Bill in the Gracious Speech, I suggest that before plunging forward we should at least examine the extent of success or failure of the policy of which it is a continuation. That is the purpose of this Debate. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster rather took up the attitude of proving that the taxpayer was not very much out of pocket. I noted that he most carefully avoided the argument as to whether the consumer was more out of pocket. There is a case the Government could make in saying it is a little early to reach final conclusions in these matters. I would concede that, but if it is agreed that it is a little early to reach final conclusions upon these matters one has no right to say "How do we arrive at the evidence about nationalisation to justify us going another stage further and taking over the iron and steel industry."
I would like to know, and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster did not mention this, whether Members opposite now think that they did the right thing when they nationalised or rather abolished the Liverpool Cotton Exchange? Are they quite so certain today that it was the right thing to do? I would like to know whether the figures can be produced to show how much the British public have lost, how much this country has lost, in foreign currency as a result of the step which this Government took. I would also like to know the number of expert operatives in the cotton futures market who are now being employed abroad by foreign countries. I would like to know whether the idea that the ordinary laws of supply and demand in these commodities, if one can call people commodities, is so completely wrong in the opinion of the Labour Party, that it is of no significance that these highly skilled people, or large numbers of them, are being employed in other countries, in competition with this country. That is a point which the hon. Member was able to gloss over because he could have said, "We have not nationalised the Cotton Exchange, we have abolished it."
If we look at the King's Speech, and indeed at earlier King's Speeches, we see a mixture of Socialism in the form of the nationalisation which is proposed, and legislation which by and large is for the weak and needy in this country, legislation which, as has already been stated, was largely devised and conceived by the National Government. That is all very well. One can say, if one wishes, that legislation should be for those who are weakest and need it most, but there is one thing of which I accuse this Government, namely, of shirking the responsibility for creating an opportunity for those who are not quite so weak, those who are a little more enterprising, maybe a little more courageous, who are prepared to chance a little bit more. I accuse the Government of avoiding responsibility for creating an opportunity for those people to get on. It seems to me, to use a metaphor, that the more the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and the Minister of Health breathe down the neck of the Prime Minister, the more he says is "What we want 'for the likes of me is social security,'" and that the responsibility for creating opportunities is entirely overlooked.
I wonder if these matters have really been overlooked? Is it really just an oversight? I wonder whether it is not deliberate, if it is not really the motivating theme in any revolutionary Socialist movement? I wonder whether it is not the thing to which de Tocqueville referred in passing judgment on the French Revolution, when he said that jealousy and envy were the two human appetites which more often got political expression than any other human appetites. I believe that in recent years there has evolved a technique for using these fears and appetites. I think that a lot of the legislation and the way in which it is balanced is largely based on jealousy, is largely based on envy, which really, in itself, is no criterion of merit.
I would like to continue on this theme, but I feel the Debate, strictly speaking, is in the sphere of nationalisation and these final points, therefore, are perhaps for another time. I would end by saying this: I have talked about the trend of the Labour Party in listening to its extremists. The responsibility for that, in my opinion, lies with the Prime Minister. A great number of people in the country and in the House still see the Prime Minister as a moderate Socialist. I do not believe he is a moderate Socialist, in so far as he is responsible for a great deal of extreme socialisation in a very short period of time. I think posterity will say not that he was a moderate Socialist, not particularly that he was an extreme Socialist, but rather more that he was an extremely moderate Prime Minister.
Whether we agree that the Prime Minister is moderate or not, certainly all will agree that he is an obstinate Prime Minister. He is certainly obstinate in that the terms of the official Opposition Amendment accuse this Government of "obstinately" persisting in a policy of nationalisation. I am very glad indeed that our Prime Minister is persisting in this policy and I hope to address to the House a few reasons why that policy is one in which we should persist.
We have not had a great deal of help from the Opposition this afternoon in explaining to us why we should desist from nationalisation. We have heard a great many things about a great many subjects but very few of the remarks indeed have been directed to nationalisation. The hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Astor) said two things, one of minor importance and one of major importance, with which I can agree. The point of minor importance which he expressed, and which is true, was that the mean level of intelligence of this nation was average. That is a statement with which I heartily agree. Of course, if it is not average I do not know what "the mean level" means. The other remark he made, and which was perhaps of more importance, was that it is perhaps early to come to any conclusion—any final conclusion—about the effects of nationalisation. That, I think, is true; it is rather early to reach any final conclusion.
Nevertheless, we are permitted during the first innings of a cricket match to express opinions on how the game is going without necessarily waiting for the final score of the final innings. That is what I hoped we could do this afternoon. I cannot argue this matter on a political basis. I cannot say, "We on this side of the House stand for nationalisation and those on the other side of the House are opposed to nationalisation," because on not one occasion have we been told that any single one of our nationalisation Measures is in the programme of the Conservative Party for revocation.
The most one can say, therefore, is that whereas both sides of the House are agreed that the nationalisation which has taken place hitherto is wise and proper, and was indeed inevitable in the circumstances of this country after the war—as we found those circumstances—this side of the House, especially since a little pruning took place a day or so ago, is unitedly convinced that to pursue a policy of nationalisation is in the best interests of this country; not only will it continue the undoubted economic improvement which has taken place in our affairs, but it will widen the scope of those who wish to take part in industry and will give continuing hope to our people.
If I may, let me deal with another point raised by the hon. Member for East Surrey. He said that nobody so far had dealt with the question of how this House is to control the business of the nationalised industries. This House passes laws, and the laws of nationalisation have made it perfectly plain that the responsibility for the management of the day-to-day affairs of every nationalised industry is in the hands of the boards of those respective industries and not in the hands of any Minister responsible to this House.
That policy has been frequently discussed; it is a wise policy and I should be very much surprised indeed if any hon. Member opposite who has any experience in industry, were to get up and say, "It is a good thing that those who are responsible for the day-to-day affairs of management should continuously have to be questioned and should have to report back to somebody else in authority as to why they did this, why they did that and should have to ask, 'Please may I do something else?'" That has never been suggested from the other side. Accordingly, we act on the principle that it is essential for efficiency and proper management that we should have people capable of exercising responsibility and we say, having chosen the right people, "For Heaven's sake give them some reasonable latitude to show that they are capable of doing the job."
I am much obliged to the hon. Member and I am about to come to that. I was dealing first of all with the important point that it is accepted on both sides of the House that day-to-day affairs of the management of nationalised industries are not a matter for the Minister or, therefore, for this House. If I may say so, with all respect, it is not therefore a matter within your discretion, Sir, when it comes to putting Questions on the Table. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Haworth), who spoke before me from this side of the House, was, I am afraid, in error in suggesting that it was in any way within your discretion, Sir, when certain Questions relating to these matters were refused at the Table. It is, of course, a matter for this House to decide in which way nationalised industries should be run. Having decided, that, we keep to our Rules.
Now I come to the point raised by the hon. Member for East Surrey—in which way, therefore, are we to exercise a reasonable scrutiny over nationalised industries and their affairs? In this respect I think today's Debate is a glorious example of all the vague, unsubstantiated accusations which will be hurled from both sides of the Chamber unless we develop some machinery for finding out the true facts. I apologise for coming back to this matter once more because I have already touched on this subject in the House. I refer to the machinery of an efficiency audit carried out by the Comptroller-General, who would have not only his present audit functions but the addition of efficiency audit functions in conjunction with a Select Committee of this House composed, of course, of both sides of the House. The Committee would be able to examine the auditor's report in an objective manner, in the non-party manner in which Select Committees always do examine these things upstairs.
We cannot, of course, leave that matter to either of the two existing Select Committees because they have the responsibility of examining expenditure coming out of public funds. We are not concerned here with expenditure coming out of public funds; we are concerned with expenditure made by the nationalised corporations. If we are to have any reliable facts, any reliable test of efficiency which can be used, it is essential that we should have machinery of this sort set up so that the hon. Member for East Surrey and myself will not have to say to one another, "I think this was right" or "I think that was right" or "I really cannot say because inadequate information has been published." We shall be able to say, "This matter has been examined by the Comptroller-General in his new capacity, has been fully gone into by a proper Select Committee, that Select Committee has laid its report before us." In that way this House will be informed fully and adequately of the progress of nationalised industries in carrying out their duties of efficient management.
The hon. Member is putting before us a solution of this very difficult problem, but it seems to me that this is the first difficulty, that because of the number of industries which are likely to be nationalised, the Comptroller-General will have a very busy time, because with the immensely wide sweep of nationalisation it does not seem practical for any one Select Committee or any one man to keep abreast of the various activities.
I am obliged to the hon. and gallant Member. Of course, I could go into the matter at great length, but there is an excellent pamphlet that is about to be published by the Fabian Society that will give the hon. and gallant Member the answers to all these questions. It is only modesty that prevents my naming the author. The answer is, of course, that no single person would carry out the efficiency audit. What is required is a team, co-ordinated by the Auditor-General. Secondly, there is no earthly reason why these efficiency audits should be carried out every year. There could be test audits carried out and interim reports made every year and the complete audit every three or five years.
Therefore, to answer the hon. and gallant Member's point, there is no practical difficulty whatever in an efficiency audit team's working and reporting through the Auditor-General and a Select Committee of this House. Thus we should have the facts produced to us in an impartial way, enabling those who are responsible for carrying on these industries to be freed from, as it were, heckling at second hand by somebody asking Parliamentary Questions which they themselves cannot come here to answer. They would be brought before the Select Committee. Select Committees always carry out their functions by hearing evidence from witnesses—hitherto, mostly civil servants. It would enable the responsible members of the nationalised boards to put forward their points of view and to explain to the Select Committee the policy behind the various actions taken. I hope I have answered the hon. and gallant Gentleman's question as to what is the appropriate machinery for enabling this House to ascertain the facts, and to have an opportunity of fully discussing them, without, at the same time, offending against the cardinal principle of management, that those who have a job to do should have a reasonable opportunity of getting on with it.
Does the hon. Gentleman think that this intricate machinery for reaching a decision would be as effective as the chairman of a board of directors of a private company, who can make a decision in a matter of hours?
Let me immediately plead guilty to being chairman of two boards of directors, and, as such, say without hesitation that an answer given in this way would be much wiser and more soundly based on knowledge than any answer which any chairman of any board of directors could give, because the chairman is not trained in all the detailed matters relating to the science of management.
I am even more grateful to the hon. and gallant Gentleman than I was for his earlier interruption. Of course, the answer is in the pamphlet to which I have referred. The question gives me a further opportunity of mentioning it. The answer to that is, that every company which formed part of a nationalised industry before nationalisation took place had its own audit by an individual firm of auditors. What happens now is that we have complete co-ordination. All the firms are merged into one organisation, and we have one audit. I have gone into the question of the time it would take. I can say without hesitation—I hope that my own institute will not bear me any for what I am about to say—that the time that would be taken by the professional auditors, plus that taken by the efficiency audit team to carry out the efficiency audit, would be enormously less than the time taken by the hoards of auditors who acted for the firms severally, carrying out separate audits for the separate companies. That, of course, is merely one of the advantages that naturally flows from nationalisation. Wherever we have co-ordination we have a saving in overhead expense.
I hope the hon. Member does not mind my constant interruptions, but they give him opportunities of mentioning his pamphlet. Surely he must admit that the lesson of nationalisation is not one of co-ordination and economy in manpower? Surely, the lesson we have had so far is, that wherever we have had nationalisation, we have had an increase in centralisation and an increase in the bureaucratic staffs in Whitehall?
Let me answer the last question of the hon. and gallant Gentleman before he asks me the next. I can only assume that he was not here in the earlier part of the Debate today when the Chancellor of the Duchy referred to this very point in connection with the directors' fees of Cable and Wireless. My right hon. Friend showed that the directors' fees since nationalisation were less than a quarter of the directors' fees before nationalisation. From nationalisation we have complete co-ordination and a reduction of overheads, add one example has shown a reduction of over 75 per cent.
We are, therefore, forced to this conclusion. Both sides of the House will agree, apparently, that nationalisation of the industries which have so far been nationalised by this Parliament, and many previous Parliaments, is a good thing. However, hon. Members opposite think that the nationalisation of any industry which we may choose to nationalise henceforth is a bad thing. We have not heard one constructive speech saying precisely why that is. Not one.
I can only say that I come to the same conclusion as my hon. Friend the Member for Walton (Mr. Haworth), and that is, that the nationalisation of the industries the Government have so far nationalised the coal, transport, electricity and gas industries—has not hurt. Nobody really minded, looking at it from the point of view of shareholders and dividends, and good times to come. Nobody really minded whether gas was nationalised—although if one had been upstairs from time to time one would have thought some people did. However, nobody really minded the nationalisation of gas, or of electricity, which was half nationalised before. Certainly, nobody minded the nationalisation of coal. Nobody minded the nationalisation of the Bank of England. It made no difference to the stockholders, who got exactly the same control as they had before—to whit, none—and exactly the same dividends as before.
What, then, is the difference between the industries which have been nationalised, and which are not to be denationalised if the Tories come to Power, and the industries we are to nationalise through this Government? I can only assume that the great difference is, that steel is something in which a number of people are interested as to their pockets. I am sorry to say that, but I can see no other reason at all, and until some reason is put forward, I shall have to keep to that one.
May I refer to some of the other advantages which I expect to flow from nationalisation, none of which have been disproved by the Opposition today, and all of which are indicated, if not finally proved, in the reports which we have had so far. Before turning to that matter, may I quote from a man who has very great knowledge of business, and whose views I respect on this very question of profits. He said in his speech, as reported in "The Times" of 13th October—and I can only assume that it is an accurate report—that he profoundly distrusted those industrialists who said,
'The only thing that I want in my business is to be left alone.' That was mere nonsense and only meant, 'So long as we are making a profit, leave us alone.'
As applied to the steel industry, "So long as we are making a profit leave us alone," seems to be the whole explanation. The speaker I am referring to, of
course, was the right hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton).
The further advantages which I expect to accrue from nationalisation arise out of the meaning of nationalisation, which I must refer to, because no one has touched on this matter today, certainly not on the other side. All that happens in nationalisation is that ownership gets transferred from a number of people to a very large body of people called the nation. That is all that happens. We in this country are in this position: We have various assets, plant, knowledge, and "know how," as our American friends call it, and we have a labour force and people determined to make this country successful. All we are able to do is so to use our knowledge and labour force in conjunction with our plant and other assets as to create the greatest possible economic wealth for this country, and the using of these is what we call the function of management.
The function of management has nothing whatever to do, or should have nothing whatever to do, with the fact of proprietorship; but unfortunately what does happen mostly in private industry today is that there is very frequently a clash between proprietorship and the function of management; and I would say of nationalisation that its chief merit lies, in this context, in removing from management the trammels and limitations which proprietorship set upon it.
We shall only get really efficient management if we are rid of the problem of proprietorship, which we are rid of under nationalisation because that is taken care of by the nation. I cannot see why any citizen of this country whose concern is with management and the creation of wealth should object to the nation as a whole having the final ownership of the assets of our industries. I cannot see why anyone should object to that, unless, of course, his interest is not the creation of wealth for the country as a whole but rather the making of profits in which he himself will have a very large share.
I cannot accept that. I hope that we are examining this problem in the non-party spirit in which this Debate is inevitably conducted, because there is no disagreement between the two sides about nationalisation in principle. We are only disagreeing about the point where nationalisation stops.
Does the hon. Gentleman mean that there is some point at which his party wishes to stop nationalisation, and, if so, can he say what the disagreement is between the policy of his party and the long-term policy of the Communists?
I can certainly say that there is a point at which this party will stop nationalisation, but I am not going to tell the hon. Member yet, because that point has not been decided on, and we as a democratic party make our policy on facts and events as they transpire.
It is extremely to be regretted that any Member in this House —because everyone here has an opportunity of mixing with people of reasonable intelligence and knowledge—should still think in such mistaken terms as to believe that that is a reference to nationalisation of every single industry, business and shop in this country. I am astonished that the hon. Member should believe it.
The other changes which arise out of nationalisation arise from the fact that we are a democratic people, and we have a great opportunity for the expansion of our democracy in the economic and industrial field. It is not enough that our democracy should be limited to political rights. That is not enough for a nation which wants a full, whole and happy life for its citizens. We must extend our sense and knowledge of democracy into the industrial field, and only through nationalisation can that be achieved. Only in that way can the difficulties and cross-currents of private ownership be eliminated and full rein given to the needs of management and of the workers themselves engaged in an industry. Only in that way will there be no vested interests.
It is, of course, a further advantage that efficiency is improved inevitably. One has complete co-ordination, a centralised policy, a reduction in overhead expenses, and one does not have the trouble of having to put up with directors and managers whose sole claim to their position is that they went to the right school, or came from the right family, or know the right people.
It will confirm exactly what I am saying. If the hon. Gentleman will look into the affairs of many companies, he will find, without doubt—and I think that his own personal experience bears me out—that in many cases we have the coincidence that the names of many of the directors are all the same and the names of the junior directors are often the same as the names of their fathers, the senior directors, or uncles already on the Boards. I do not know whether it is seriously suggested that a father who is a director of a company does not try to get his son into that company and, if possible, get him a seat on the board. That happens every day, and the sooner we end it the better. My point is that the test in private industry is not limited to the test of ability to do the job, as in nationalised industry. All the other factors are taken into account, and I believe that only in this way shall we achieve the real efficiency which this country needs if it is to be put back firmly on its feet.
I hope, therefore, that either we shall carry on with our nationalisation of industries where that is appropriate, and so improve the efficiency and production of this country, or else that we shall have from the Opposition some telling remarks and effective and factual contribution to our Debate, which will show any one of us on this side why we should hesitate to continue what I am satisfied is the right policy for the country at the right time.
I have the advantage over you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, of having heard a number of very interesting and excellent speeches this afternoon. I heard one from my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Sir D. Robertson), who made the Government benches exceedingly wroth by his revelation—which I thought quite pertinent—of the incompetence of the management of the "Daily Citizen," which was set up by a number of politicians and became a financial disaster. He adduced his argument to show that politicians were not good at business. I think he offered a devastating and conclusive argument. He was followed by the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Hale), who gave us a quotation from Thomas Babington Macaulay, a reference to Robert Montgomery the poet which he did not develop, although I know the hon. Member for the Devonport Division of Plymouth (Mr. Foot) would have liked him to do so—a further reference, unnamed, and a quotation from Robert Browning, which I thought was his peroration, but he continued his speech for a time after that in an attack of a somewhat bitter character upon the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Ivor Thomas), who after all, has only changed his mind about the desirability of extending nationalisation further. That was the speech to which we listened from the hon. Member for Oldham.
I was flattered, however, by the hon. Member for Oldham, because he developed his argument by quoting from a speech which I had the honour to deliver in this House in connection with the nationalisation of the Bank of England. I was flattered by his reference, because I, having studied such an interesting Member's career for many years, remembered that he, too, at one time had been a member of the Liberal Party, and had in fact stood as such for a constituency, but had now changed his mind.
It is in this diverse atmosphere that I rise to speak. I am admittedly profoundly disappointed at what I have heard from the Government Benches. The more recent speeches, particularly that from the hon. Member for the Blackley Division of Manchester (Mr. Diamond) greatly depressed me. Members of the Opposition are asked what is their alternative to nationalisation. Well, I speak as a moderately independent member of the Conservative Party. I think that nationalisation is a mistake, both politically and economically, and I will tell the House why.
I think that the Government should stand out of business, that the Government should say to the organisers of industry in this country: "Make the machinery, produce the food, give us the goods and services, and do it rightly. If you do not do it rightly, wisely and competently we will see that someone else does." But once the Government of the day, on the advice of this promised pamphlet from the Institute of Business Management and the Fabian Society, becomes the sole monopolist, the public are in the position of the customers of Mr. Henry Ford. Mr. Henry Ford's customers sometimes said to him: "We like your cars, but we do not like their colour." "I do not understand that," said Mr. Ford. "You can have any colour you like so long as you take black." Under a State monopoly system the consumer—and, after all, it is the consumer I stand for, because I am not representing a political party—has to take what he gets; he has to, every time.
Choice—which is, write it down, the mark of freedom—is gone, under the State monopoly, because State monopoly becomes narrower and more limited.
My view, then, is that if a Government remains out of economics and leaves the conduct of economics to the business society, it can then serve the public, it can put one against the other, and it can raise standards. But once it has embarked upon such a career, there can be no choice: it, and it alone, can be the standard, and the elaborate cost accounting audit desired by the hon. Member for the Blackley Division of Manchester is the most sterile and barren substitute for a living community. I venture to think that he is well aware of that; he has all the appearance of one of those who favour these intricate and valueless audits merely to please the Comptroller-General.
I am greatly disappointed because the only defences of nationalisation have been qualified. The hon. Member for the Walton Division of Liverpool (Mr. Haworth), who made a most interesting and eloquent speech, was quite clear in this view. Nationalisation was not quite working in the industry which he knew so well—the railway industry; it was not giving the satisfaction of those incentives under the principle "Each for all and all for each," the ideals of William Morris and the founders of the Socialist movement; it was not turning out as he expected; he regretfully admitted that the carrot and the stick were necessary inducements to make people work, and do, and strive. He said so. And ended his speech with what? Not a justification of nationalisation. He was afraid that the bare bones of that thing would feed no one. What he said was "Unless you have moral rearmament, unless you go back to Christian religion, unless you re-erect the standards of Christian morality, heaven help nationalisation—or indeed any society." A very old conclusion, with which I agree. But where then is the argument for socialisation of the means and instruments of production, distribution and exchange?
If that argument failed to help the hon. Member and it did not seem to me to help nationalisation very much—how much less hope of it in the new protégé of the Fabian Society? I thought the Fabian Society died with Lord Passfield; I thought it had disappeared. It is a long time since I saw a pamphlet from them—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"]—Well, it is a long time since I saw a pamphlet, which means that they are less urgent and less ardent than in the days when the Fabian essays were first published, when they received and deserved such a large public reading.
The second thing is to sweeten the pill of nationalisation. We are to have an elaborate system of cost accountancy, where the public have to take what they can get, and where they are not even allowed to bring to this House pertinent questions, to ask Ministers, "If you please, can we have a better railway service? If you please, can we have an improvement in our cables system?" They are not allowed to ask any of these questions. The picture painted by the Goverment side of the House confirms
my worst fears and my gravest anxieties about nationalisation. I must say, the hon. Member for Keighley is by no means a pioneer in this crossing of the Floor of the House. I was brought up to look askance upon these cruel evils of complicated modem society, and tempted by the simple souls which these second generation Socialists have inherited from their fathers to accept the easy solution of the abolition of competition and the substitution of State monopoly. I believed that
These should be ours and all men's,
And none should lack their share,
Of the toil and the gain of living
In the days when the world grows fair.
I learned these things, and I learned to believe them; but I have grown old and I have grown experienced
I am rather in the position of the man in the story which Mr. George Bernard Shaw told years ago at a meeting, when he stood for the St. Pancras Guardians. I remember that he was being attacked—because at that time, as now, the Socialist Party tore the bowels and guts out of each other with foul vindictiveness—for not having been a first-class Marxist, or whatever was the dogma of the hour. He then told the story of how Peter the Hermit stumping Europe for—which Crusade? The Third Crusade, shall we say? Nobody can contradict me; not even the history professors now present. Peter the Hermit was stumping Europe for the Third Crusade, and when he got to Styria he made a great speech, at the end of which every man, except one, who had listened to him shouted with one voice, "To the Holy Land." Peter the Hermit, like most Socialist orators, was not accustomed to a minority of even one inattentive to his pleadings, and when the knights and barons were saddling up and kissing farewell to their wives, preparing for this great crusade to the Holy Land, Peter the Hermit said to this silent one: "Sir, is it nothing to you that the home of our blessed Lord lies in the hands of the Saracens? Is it nothing to you that the Holy Land is in the hands of the Infidel?" The man said "No." Peter the Hermit then pleaded with him: "Are you not coming with these gallant men who are already preparing to go?" But the man replied "No." "I charge you to give me the reason. Why are you not going to the Holy Land with the rest of them? "He said" Because I have been there.
" Well, like the hon. Member for Keighley, I have been there. I am not living in the half lights of dim Socialism illuminated by moral re-armament. I am not living in the sterile world of clerks and inkwells. I have been there. I am back in a livelier and braver society which deserves better leadership than it is getting. I should like to think that the end of mankind is not the socialisation of the means of production, distribution and exchange. I should like to think that this great test, and striving with all its cruelties and with all its miseries, will go on increasingly. [Interruption.] I believe in a system which maintains these qualities. not in a system which stifles and stultifies the spirit of man.
I want to make quite clear what is in the minds of most people like myself, for I have a great deal of vanity and believe that I represent a large number of people in this country. We are being asked by the Government to extend the system of nationalisation, and we are told that the success of nationalisation, both politically and economically, warrants the experiment. There are about 50 million people in this country. I put it to you, Sir, is it seriously supposed that the fact that I am today an owner of the Bank of England has changed my life from what it was five years ago? Is it seriously said, in the streets and in the lanes, on the fields and on the hills of our country, that the people rejoice today, almost every hour, saying, "Five years ago the unfortunate British people did not own the Bank of England, but now we own the Bank of England," and ecstatically plough, hoe and drive the tractors across the fields rejoicing in this new-found happiness? That is the test. Will any Member here tell me of one iota of human happiness that has come about during these miserable three years as a result of an individual member of the public knowing that he owns the Bank of England?
Is there any joy in the hearts of any of us because we own Cable and Wireless? Does it really matter who owns Cable and Wireless? [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] The important thing is who effectively owns Cable and Wireless. I submit that the common people of this country do not care who owns the Bank of England. They were quite satisfied with the ownership of the Bank of England in days gone by, and they are not one whit happier or better off as a result of public ownership. If that is true of the Bank of England, it is true of the Cotton Exchange. Is cotton now any cheaper? Are the patterns and designs of our shirts better as a result of public ownership? I suggest to this second generation of Socialists, this university-bred group of Socialists who have inherited the ideas of their fathers, who have brought the monopolist economics under the label of Socialism, that that world has long since passed them by. This is not a world of that character.
If it is the intention of the Government, as they assert, to bring us nearer and nearer to a collective State, a State in which there is no personal possession of money or property, then their methods are unquestionably more likely to take us towards Communism than the alternative policy offered by the Opposition. State monopoly in industry will obviously build up a bitter dispute between State control and control by the workers. Hon. Members opposite have not forgotten the dangers of syndicalism and the development of the corporate State under Mussolini. These things are in the minds of all intelligent Socialists. I submit that there is no public demand for nationalisation. The public do not get anything for their money. Why should I be compelled to invest in a business in which I do not believe?
I am told that the mines were bankrupt. Why should I be compelled as a citizen to put my capital, which I do not want to do, into the mining industry? I am told that the British railways were a very poor bag of assets—I think those were the happy words of the present Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. If that is so, why should I be compelled now to put my money into the railways? Why should I be a compulsory shareholder in businesses of which I do not approve? Why should the right of investment be taken from me? Why should I, under the leadership of the Government, be compelled to be a shareholder in enterprises which I think could be better managed by the present owners? I suggest that the Government are taking away from me the freedom and liberty which is properly mine.
It has been said from the opposite side that the Tory Party accept nationalisation. I do not accept nationalisation. I decline to believe that these Socialists have any point in mind beyond which socialisation shall not go. Socialism is surely a progressive thing, and nationalisation cannot be an end in itself or of itself. The question I pose is this: after nationalisation, what? When the Government have completed their programme, when they have socialised the means of production, distribution and exchange, then all I shall have left is a toothbrush and my braces buttons. Is it seriously supposed that this is the policy which should be followed, and that it is in the general interests of the people of this country?
Does the ordinary citizen like this intensive monopoly? I think not. I think that what the sensible Government which will succeed this Government will do will be to allow me to put my savings in things I believe in, will encourage thrift by telling me that I may have 5 per cent. for the first £1,000 pounds of my savings, and will tell me that I can have a house of my own and not one let to me by permission of the local authority or the Minister of Health. I shall be very proud to give my support to the Amendment.
The hon. Member for South Edinburgh (Sir W. Darling) said at one point that he was disappointed with some of the speeches which have come from this side of the House. I am sure that he was even more disappointed with the speeches which have come from his side. His is the first speech which could be really represented as a speech directed to the Amendment. Most of the other speeches have been of a tepid character and I congratulate the hon. Member for having introduced a note of controversy.
The first ground on which the hon. Member opposed nationalisation was that if there is a public monopoly the consumer has to take what he is given. That is exactly what happens in the case of the Iron and Steel Federation. The consumer must take what he gets, and sometimes he does not like it very much. Lord Nuffield, for instance, disliked intensely what he was given by the Iron and Steel Federation, particularly the price of the steel. The hon. Member opposite wants to go back to the age of Neolithic man. He wants the industry to be broken up into small firms, each competing against the other, so that everything will be fine. But he is out of agreement with the majority of his party. There are only two Members of his party who agree with him—the hon. Member for Orpington (Sir W. Smithers) and the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill). The hon. Member must think the matter out, and decide whether he should follow the example of the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Ivor Thomas) and leave his party because of his obvious disagreement with them in this matter.
The hon. Gentleman is making such an excellent speech that I am l0th to interrupt, but I should not like it to be devoid of facts. As chairman of a large engineering company, I must tell him that I am not compelled to buy my steel from one particular company. There is actual competition within the industry.
In the past, the consumer of steel has had to take his steel at the price decided by the Federation. The question we want Members opposite to consider is, who shall make the decision as to the price at which steel should be distributed—a private body or a public body?
The second argument of the hon. Gentleman against nationalisation was that it was absolutely wrong for him to be compelled to put some of his money into businesses into which he did not want his money to go. I think it is absolutely right that he should have some of his money put into businesses into which he does not want it to go. One of the things which was wrong with this country, one of the causes of the legacy with which this Government was left, was that sufficient steps were not taken to compel people like the hon. Gentleman opposite to put their money into businesses where it was most needed. Because of that the country was left with a decadent coal industry, and steel and electrical industries which had not expanded as much as they should have done. We are not prepared to allow the coal, steel and electricity industries to be left in the hands of people like the hon. Member, however much we like his nature and applaud the fashion in which he advances views to which the Tory Party have not the courage to subscribe.
This Debate, apart from the eloquent speech of the hon. Member for South Edinburgh, has been something of a fiasco. It is supposed to be a Vote of Censure on the Government. There are half a dozen of the better looking Members of the party opposite assembled to carry it through, but it has been a most pitiable effort. This was to be a great attack on the monstrous proposal of a Government that was forcing nationalisation down the throats of the people—though there are very few throats opposite at the moment. It is a pity that the Tory Party did not bring some more along. What is instructive is to compare the kind of argument advanced in this Debate with that advanced a year ago.
The Amendment we are discussing today refers almost entirely to nationalisation. There is hardly any other criticism of the Government in it. A year ago, however, the attack was of a much wider nature. The Amendment then put down by the Opposition said that the Government had failed to show adequate leadership or administrative competence, had revealed no plans for dealing with the economic crisis and, as a result, was to be condemned. No one would deny that steps to deal with the economic crisis which persistently faces this country is one of the most important matters we should discuss. But it is remarkable that in contriving to support a Vote of Censure at this most critical time in the history of this Parliament the Opposition have not mentioned national leadership and administrative competence, as they did a year ago.
It is perhaps even more instructive to remember what the Opposition said a year ago when attacking the Government. The right hon. Member for Woodford, who moved the Amendment on that occasion—and it is significant that he is not here today to do the same again—said that we were travelling along the wrong road, that in a year or so we should be worse off, that we were being led down a dark tunnel with no hope of daylight at the end of it, that the country's affairs were being paralysed by the Government's efforts and that the main charge against the Government was that they had broken the main-spring of the country's productive system. All the lesser lights of the Conservative Party took up the cry. The right hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton), who was very busy on that occasion but who is not very active on this, said that the export targets which had been outlined by the Chancellor were quite unattainable. He went on to say that many people in the United States believed that we were work shy, that our prestige had sunk to nothing and, in his peroration, added that we were a mendicant nation.
That is the kind of leadership which has been provided by the Opposition during recent months. They do not turn up to argue these matters out in debate, but are content to make these charges on platforms outside this House. We all know that things have turned out very unfortunately for the Opposition in the past year, and that most of the targets which were described as unattainable have, in the main, been reached. We know that production is considerably greater than before the war. We know that it has increased in this country faster than in any other country in Europe. These facts are known to other people as well, and I think it is shameful that, so far as I am aware, no tribute to these achievements has been paid by the Leader of the Conservative Party. It is also a shameful thing that Mr. Hoffman, an American, should have uttered the facts which the Opposition had not the grace and generosity to admit.
There was some laughter earlier today during a singularly eloquent peroration by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, when he said he would quote from a paper called "Tribune." The Opposition did not laugh, however, when they heard the quotation because they realised that it was powerful, and that perhaps it was Mr. Hoffman himself who said it. There are plenty more where that came from. There is the statement of Mr. Hoffman himself, and I do not think it can be read too often:
I am going back to America with the clear impression that the United Kingdom has made remarkable progress. The very gallant and successful effort which Great Britain has put up to build up exports and hold down imports, and achieve financial stability. is one which commands the admiration of the world.
Yes, it commands the admiration of Mr. Hoffman but not the admiration of the Leader of the Opposition. I think it is
mean. Mr. Hoffman does not call us a mendicant nation. He has not gone back to America to repeat what was said by the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Gammans) that this country is begging. That is not what Mr. Hoffman is saying, but that is what our patriots over here are saying.
When the right hon. Member for Woodford was in charge of our affairs during the war he was always very severe on any one who criticised him and he always described such critics as crabs. None of the right hon. Gentleman's critics in the war ever showed themselves so crustacean as the right hon. Gentleman himself. Now when he is rapidly descending into his political second childhood it is rather melancholy that of this man, whose name has figured so largely in the history of this country, it has to be said that in the last few years of his life and of his political record every time he opened his mouth he did injury to his country. It is a pitiable fact that the Leader of the Conservative Opposition is not prepared to pay any such tribute as we have had from Mr. Hoffman and from others who have examined the facts. He makes these wild and inaccurate charges——
Mr. Hoffman was not engaged in political arguments but was justifying the policy to which he has lent his support and for which His Majesty's Government begged him. How could he say anything else?
How could Mr. Hoffman say anything else? Mr. Hoffman is an honest man. He is going back to America as the servant of the American people. He is not going there to put something across on our behalf to the American people, but as a servant of the American people, to persuade them and to tell them of the facts as he has seen them here. The right hon. Member for Woodford has not had the grace or the generosity on one occasion in the past year to pay some tribute to the production achievements of this country. Instead he says that our prestige has sunk to nothing and that the British people ought to be ashamed of what they had done in the past few years. That is in direct contrast to what has been said by those who are trying to reconstruct Europe at this time.
Let me recall another part of the argument which was used a year ago. The first charge made by the right hon. Member for Woodford was that we had broken the mainspring of our productive system. Not even the right hon. Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) dares say that today. The second charge made by the right hon. Member for Woodford a year ago—and what he described as the second count against the Government—was that the housing programme had collapsed. Those were the words he used. It is significant again that there is no reference in this Amendment to the housing programme which was supposed to have collapsed a year ago. It is a remarkable thing. The right hon. Member for Southport today did say a few words about the housing programme, but the housing programme has not collapsed.
In the city of Plymouth, of which I am one of the representatives in this House and which is one of the areas most tragically affected by the shortage of houses, we have built in the last three years more than 5,000 new houses. During the whole of the period during the two wars—the right hon. Member for Southport was very careful to safeguard himself about the period immediately after the 1914–1918 war—in Plymouth something like 11,000 houses were built. We have now built 5,000 houses in three years, so that we are well on the way to doing in three years half of what was done in the whole of the 20 years between the two wars. That has been done while carrying out a large number of repairs as well. And that kind of experience can be repeated in many parts of the country.
It is disreputable that the Opposition should try to pretend that the housing programme has collapsed when, in fact, we have a better housing record than any other country in the world. Taking into account the fact that my city of Plymouth stands almost at the top of the league in housing—[Interruption.]—I am afraid it is not at the top of the league in other matters—I say that there is no city in the whole world which has a bigger housing record since 1945, in proportion to its population, than has my city. Should we not be proud of that? Or should we go around saying that the housing programme has collapsed and that the figures do not mean anything?
I remember when the right hon. Member for Woodford was speaking during the war when the soldiers were going into battle. He was making promises to them. He said that Lord Portal at the Ministry of Works was working wonders and was going to produce 500,000 steel houses. Only two of them were ever built. When a Tory Minister produces 500,000 houses on paper, that is working wonders, but when a Labour Minister produces 800,000 houses in fact, we are told that it is a housing programme that has collapsed. That is the kind of patriotism we have had during the past three years from hon. Members opposite.
Let me take another aspect of this matter. Now that hon. Members opposite find that they have not been able to continue their attack on the Government on the ground that the production campaign has failed, they say: "We must think up something new. We must accuse the Government of taking steps to disrupt the harmony of effort that has been continuing in this country and the solid alliance between Opposition and Government in pursuit of it. They come down and say that they are deeply shocked—almost as shocked as the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Ivor Thomas) was—that we should have brought in the Parliament Bill and the Steel Bill at the present time. I have not seen much of this eager enthusiasm among Members of the Conservative Party to support the austerity drive of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I have not seen them working hard in support of those proposals. I do not know what facts there are to justify this picture of a Conservative Party tireless, selfless and diligent. They must have been almost subterranean in their working on behalf of national recovery. I do not know where that picture comes from. I recall the phrase used by Junius; it applies to the Opposition: They have done good by stealth. The rest is on record.
There is hardly one Measure which this Government have taken during the past 12 months to assist the recovery of this nation which has not been opposed by hon. Members opposite. A year ago, the right hon. Member for Woodford was standing in his place over there denouncing the whole export programme of the Government and saying that we had done it in the wrong way altogether. No measure for the limitation of imports which has assisted us so powerfully in bringing about the improved situation which we are in today, have hon. Members opposite had the courage to vote for in the Lobby. Instead of that, they have tried to work up a little popularity on the basis of denouncing certain limitations of imports.
This is the party which claims in someway or other that national leadership has been broken up. I do not believe we can ever have national leadership with people who only represent a small clique but if we ever were to think of that, I think we could at least demand that they should vote for at any rate one or two unpopular measures which they felt might conceivably lose them votes. If they did, some people might be prepared to consider national unity with them, though I would not. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about conscription?"] That was not an unpopular measure. If it was, we have shared the unpopularity. I am talking about petrol, newsprint, timber, food and bread rationing where we have taken measures which are unpopular and difficult. Some hon. Members opposite know the reasons for these measures but they have not had the courage to come forward and support one of them.
Today the hon. Member for Hornsey, who knows better, talks as if there is no balance of payments crisis. He says that the troubles the nation has to face are due to wasteful expenditure and Socialist administration. He knows quite well that the country has been facing an economic crisis which has been arising for years past. His statement that capitalism in the years before the war enabled us to pay our way is not even true. The balance of payments problem was already arising in the years before the war, and the hon. Member knows it very well. Yet he will try to make as much publicity out of it as he can. He has said that he will sling as much mud at every Minister that he can and tell all the silly tales which Lord Woolton dishes up for the Housewives' League and then say that the Tories have a long-term plan. He is prepared to fight the General Election on that basis. As I listened to his speech and other speeches by the Opposition, I could not help being reminded of the statement by Disraeli that the Conservative Party was the first association of public men who came together for an avowed end without enunciating a single principle.
The other comic part about this charge of breaking up national unity is that this is exactly the same charge that was made a year ago. We are now told that it is the Steel Bill which will cause all the disunity and disharmony, but a year ago it was the Gas Bill. The right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler) got up in the House a year ago and said that the Gas Bill would distract the nation from its purpose. The Parliament Bill was going to do the same. What I said at the time was right. The miners have not gone on strike because the Lords are to lose a year of their veto power. The electrical workers and the mill girls have not come out in sympathy with the battle of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bournemouth (Mr. Bracken) on the Gas Committee. Most significantly, the steel workers have continued to work hard and produce more steel with this black cloud of nationalisation hanging over them. It was announced a year ago that we were to nationalise steel. All those prophecies of the Opposition have not been fulfilled.
The most remarkable thing about this year as compared with a year ago is that nearly all the hopes of the Government, brave and optimistic though many of them were, have been fulfilled, and all the prophecies of the Opposition have been rendered void and made to appear ridiculous.
The fact is that the Government have kept faith with the working people of the country, and that is the most powerful fact which has contributed to the production drive. If the Government had adopted the advice which was given to it by the Opposition during past years and the past year in particular we should not have been able to report the increased production figures that have been achieved. If the Government had cut the food subsidies, as they were advised to by hon. Gentlemen opposite, and if they had slashed the housing programme as they were advised to do by Lord Woolton, and if they had cut to ribbons the capital investment programme, as they were advised to do by a lot of harebrained economists in Oxford, and if they had refused to go forward with the National Health Act despite the fact that some of the doctors and the Tory Party did not like it, and if they had taken all those measures advised by hon. Gentlemen opposite, then we would today have been in the situation which the right hon. Gentleman forecast 12 months ago.
And if that had happened, then the right hon. Member for Woodford would have been able to go off to Llandudno as happy as a king, able to make his speech and to join in the chorus of singing that fine old song, "Ain't it grand to be blooming well dead." Instead of that, the right hon. Member for Woodford had to tear up his speech on domestic politics altogether—or almost altogether. He went up to Llandudno and decided to talk on another subject, and in order to show that we have something great to offer in this country, he offered the world the atom bomb which we do not happen to possess.
The circumstances changed somewhat when the Debate took place in the House because it was quite evident that most of the speakers on that side of the House did not agree with his Llandudno speech. In order to change the tone of it, and to elevate the general atmosphere, the hon. Gentleman the Member for Devizes (Mr. Hollis) was put up as the first speaker on the opposite side. And what did he say? He did not mention atom bombs from the beginning to the end of his speech. He said what we wanted was a Christian Renaissance and some others have suggested it as well. I do not profess to be a very good Christian, but I must say that if this is to be the Crusade which they are advising for this country, that we should go forward and present ourselves in Europe as a great Power, with a Bible in one hand and an atom bomb in the other, I do not think that that is the way in which this country will ever establish its reputation throughout the world.
We must maintain our defences, we must protect ourselves, but everyone knows that there is an even more subtle and complicated and difficult task to be discharged if the onrush of Communism is to be resisted and rolled back, and that is that we must have something better to offer. And we say that here in this country we have something better to offer, and we shall only have something better to offer so long as we continue to reject the advice which has been offered by the right hon. Member for Woodford and his friends. It may be very difficult for them to understand that their philosophy is totally irrelevant to the problems of Europe today. Most of the friends of the hon. Gentlemen on that side of the House in Europe—most, I do not say all by any means, there were honourable exceptions—but most of the friends of hon. Gentlemen organised in parties destroyed themselves in Europe before the war because they were allied with the Nazis and with Mussolini. They destroyed themselves. They wiped themselves out as an important political factor, and the real argument in Europe is the argument as to whether the world is to be re-established and a new society is to be built upon democratic and free and Socialist lines, or whether it is to be rebuilt on tyrannical lines.
That is the real choice in Europe, and if one goes into Europe one can see that is the battle that is being fought out today, and that is the battle in which we say that Britain is the leader. It is a task which accords with all the finest traditions of this country.
I notice that the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot) delivered a very scathing attack upon the right hon. Member for Woodford when he was not in his place. [An HON. MEMBER: "And others."] He sneered at the sincerity and the patriotism of some of the speeches which the right hon. Gentleman has delivered during the life of the present Parliament. The hon. Member can say what he likes, but I have a shrewd suspicion that the most recent speech of the right hon. Member for Woodford and the sentiments which it contained will live in history a good deal longer than all the speeches which the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot) has ever made.
The hon. Member for Devonport still seems to persist in the curious illusion that the way to build up a bulwark against Communism is by a Socialist democracy, as I think he calls it. In other words, what we must do to protect ourselves against Communism is to go as far to the Left as we think it is safe to go If he would look at the story of Czechoslovakia, of Poland, of Bulgaria and of other countries, he would see that Communists did not get into power over the extreme Right—they got into power on the backs of the Left Wing of the Socialist parties.
In these grave times the legislative programme outlined in the Gracious Speech should be judged on two grounds: the impact of the legislation upon our national economy, and the impact upon the outside world. Does it speed up production or does it retard it? Does it promote efficiency or does it impair it? Does it create the impression to the outside world, to friend and foe alike, that we here are seized with a sense of urgency and of realism against the very sombre international background? To us on these benches, at least, the contents of the Gracious Speech fulfil neither of these two requirements. Even taking into consideration the doctrinal obsession of hon. Gentlemen opposite for nationalisation, one might have expected that the most ardent and starry-eyed idealist would occasionally, on grounds of commonsense, call a halt and look back on the road over which he had travelled, and discover whether or not any progress had been made. We know full well that the administration of those industries already nationalised has created very great problems—problems for the most part unexpected, unthought of and, hitherto, entirely unsolved. But none of those problems, in my view, compares to the magnitude of the problems that will be created once the iron and steel industry is nationalised.
The consumer in this country is a patient beast and his shoulders are already aching, but I doubt very much if the full burden has yet fallen upon him. I doubt very much whether the price of coal, gas or electricity has yet reached its ceiling. It is no use trying to deceive the consumer with the rather facile argument that, because 80 per cent of the industries of the country are still in pri- vate hands, 80 per cent. of the consumer's troubles are due to private enterprise. I suppose that, shortly before the General Election, the argument will be put forward that, if by that time we have not substantially reduced the deficit in our balance of payments, 80 per cent. of the blame can be laid at the door of the non nationalised industries. I wonder, however, whether any hon. Member can tell me of any business, large or small, which does not depend for its efficient running upon an adequate and reasonably cheap supply of electricity, coal, steel, gas and good transport facilities? The fact is that the noose is drawn pretty tight around the neck of our non-nationalised industries.
But if the consumer here in England is a patient beast, the purchaser of British goods overseas is less patient, because his choice is not limited to the product of any State monopoly. If British goods are too expensive, he buys his goods from another country and we in this country feel the effects of the loss of the market and the custom going elsewhere. This is true above all in the motor industry. I believe 50 per cent. of the cost of producing a motor car depends on the price of steel. The motor industry has been making very great progress during the past three years. Ministers of the Crown have on a number of occasions, quite rightly, paid tribute to the enterprise and efficiency of that industry in capturing so large a portion of the export trade and earning so many dollars. But, if the price of steel is to follow the example of coal, electricity and gas, it seems extremely unlikely that the motor industry will be quite so successful in the export market as it has been hitherto. I should have thought the time had come when even the Socialist Party should demand from the already nationalised industries and swollen Government Departments the same standards of efficiency and economy which they so continually demand of private enterprise.
Another trouble with hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite is that any sort of slogan has some kind of magnetic attraction for them. They do not stop to think what a slogan means. For instance, to us on these benches the operative part of the slogan equality is quality. The problem of our generation is how to level up, not to level down. Any fool can level down; any fool can proceed at the pace of the slowest in the race. I have often felt that British industry is invited to recover from all its wartime troubles at the pace at which the slowest Government official can deal with the top file in the "in" tray and transfer the file to "pending." This is the most jaundiced interpretation of Equality.
The reason why our commercial reputation is so high in the world is because a particular quality is associated with a particular commodity produced by a particular firm. Hitherto I have always understood that one of the main arguments of hon. Members opposite in favour of nationalisation was that the products of a nationalised industry were so much better because the whole set-up was so much more efficient than that of the non-nationalised industry. The Government themselves seem to have demolished those arguments at one sweep by allowing certain of the iron and steel firms to retain their names. In other words, the Government are attempting to cash in on the reputation made by private firms in the bad old days of Tory misrule when it was not considered to be the greatest crime one could commit to be successful in any commercial enterprise.
Turning to the impact of the King's Speech on the world outside; our recovery is not merely of vital importance to us in this country, but it is of vital importance to Western civilisation. We can play no effective part in the Atlantic Pact and make no effective contribution to any joint re-armament programme unless our economy is conducted on lines sound enough to enable us to carry the burden. We cannot complain that certain of the Scandinavian countries still cling to a rather forlorn belief in neutrality, or that other countries may be wavering a bit and demanding some physical guarantee of whether or not we in this country are capable of translating words into action.
Even the actions of the United States of America it Europe depend very largely upon European response, and in that European response we in this country must play the major part. How much time will the Minister of Supply have to devote to the necessary re-armament programme in the present Session of Parliament? What sort of effect upon the potential recruit for the Territorial Army will be created by the spectacle of the Minister of Supply conducting a Bill for the nationalisation of iron and steel through all its stages in this House? Will Marshal Stalin be very impressed? I should guess that he will be chuckling. [An HON. MEMBER: "Does it matter?"] I think it does because half the basis of rearmament depends upon coal and the key man in that key industry is a Communist. The other half of rearmament depends upon steel, and steel is to be nationalised.
I doubt if ever there was a time when real leadership and unity were more needed and when efficiency ought to be regarded as the sole criterion of any action. Yet hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, instead of leading, have allowed themselves to be driven on by the extremists in their own party. Instead of uniting they have preferred to divide. One cannot sow without reaping, and one day the wild oats will be harvested.
At one moment in his speech I thought that the hon. Member for Windsor (Mr. Mott-Radclyffe) was about to develop some argument relating to the international situation. He did not do so, however. It has surprised me that throughout the Debate, to which I have listened rather carefully, not one word has been addressed from the Opposition benches to the international situation, which features so largely in the preamble to the Amendment which has been moved. I should like to say something about it because it seems to me that over and above all the domestic arguments for the nationalisation of steel, the world situation is one which makes it overwhelmingly important that this Government should obstinately persist in the policy to which it has set itself.
I shall ask hon. Members opposite to look again at the world situation in the hope that they will perhaps take a new view of it. It might be as well therefore if I begin by making a confession of a fairly serious error of my own. Believing as I do in the need for a world-wide social revolution, I confess that I had hoped, and perhaps because I had hoped I believed, that the leaders in the Kremlin would be persuaded to see the wisdom or at least the expediency of
allowing, perhaps encouraging, the worldwide social revolution to take place in different parts of the world at different times, according to the very different traditions and different circumstances of different peoples. It seems that I was mistaken. I paid too little attention to such words as one finds in "Problems of Leninism":
In order that the fight against social democracy may be carried on successfully attention must be concentrated on fighting the so-called left wing of social democracy. It is obvious that unless the left social democrats are smashed it will be impossible to overcome social democracy as a whole.
I hope that Lord Woolton, his advisers and colleagues will appreciate their position as collaborators and fellow travellers of the leaders of the Kremlin in that both desire and intend to smash left wing social democracy. In case that confession should seem to put me in the same class as political morons who speak of Communism and Fascist being the same, I would ask how, if that was so, would one explain the fact that the Parliamentary Tory Party, from 1933 to 1938, never disliked Nazism as such. The difference, of course, is that Communism makes contact with the world-wide social revolution which is going on; harnesses it and uses it and in its ruthless way drives it forward. The Nazis made contact with it, and in perhaps a rather similar way did their utmost to hold it back.
The policy which we pursue needs to be regarded in the light of what we think is happening in the whole wide world. It seems to me that in these days there is a world-wide protest against the inequalities and against the ungovernable, cataclysmic forces which sweep across the world from time to time at irregular and unpredictable intervals as a result of the development of individualism and privately-owned big business in the last hundred years or more. The protest against these inequalities takes on in these days a new urgency, because until the quite recent invention of power-driven machinery man knew quite clearly that the overwhelming majority of ordinary people were bound to live in grinding labour and grinding poverty. Power-driven machinery in the last hundred years or so has poured out extraordinary wealth and comfort mainly upon the middle-class folk, in the nations of Western Europe and America whose comfort has been sustained upon the toil of manual workers who, in Western Europe, received no fair share of the wealth that was produced, and in Eastern Europe, Africa and Asia, received no share at all.
Not only is the protest against these inequalities, which I regard as being daemonic and wholly unmanageable; but also it is a protest against the ungovernable forces which devastate the industrial world from time to time when it is left to the tender mercies of privately directed big business. The great tragedy of Jarrow, for example, is not that it was murdered by the of individual business leaders. The tragedy is far greater. It is that it was murdered because the industrial leaders were in the grip of forces which they could not understand and which they had no knowledge of how to control. It is against these inequalities and these ungovernable forces that a world-wide revolt is stirring from end to end on this earth. The fact that we should never allow ourselves to forget is that Communism makes contact with this world-wide revolt and harnesses it to its own purposes.
I was interested last week, in the early stages of this Debate, when the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Hollis), seemed at times to be aware of this great worldwide challenge of our time and said that we cannot meet ideas except with ideas. I thought that that was a word of enlightenment coming from the benches opposite, and I listened with interest to see what he would say next. I am sorry he is not here now, because I could not help smiling when he mentioned the Industrial Charter as the great idea with which the Opposition would meet the great challenge of our time. I should like to tell the Opposition something about their Industrial Charter which was adopted at their party conference in September of last year. I think that the whole conference voted for it with two exceptions.
Five or six weeks after that, there started a by-election which I am told in the Press was regarded as of crucial importance. Both sides threw in all their material and ideological resources, and even Lord Woolton himself went down to see that everything was in really good order. The Industrial Charter was never mentioned from beginning to end in my opponent's election address. The docu- ment itself was not on sale anywhere throughout the length and breadth of the keenly-contested constituency; and I do not recollect that the Industrial Charter was mentioned once by any Conservative speaker who came down to address the electorate. I submit to the party opposite that if official Conservative ideas made so little impact upon the official Conservative mind, they are very unlikely to make much of a dent on Joseph Stalin.
A new phrase has recently been discovered or rediscovered by hon. Members opposite called, "The property owning democracy." That is a phrase which I would entirely understand, and I might even think that there were arguments in its support, if we were going to apply it to a peasant community interspersed with tiny rural workshops each employing 10 workers or less. In such a community, the phrase "property owning democracy" would have a clear and intelligible meaning. But I ask the Opposition party to be so good as to illustrate this phrase of a "property owning democracy" in relation to a factory employing 500 workers or upwards. Does it mean that when a particular worker goes in to start work on Monday, he says to his mate, "This piston here belongs to me, and the crankshaft over there belongs to Bill," because if property owning democracy does not mean that in relation to a big factory, what meaning does it have? It would be interesting if we could be told.
The truth of the matter is that the 19 years' record of the Conservative Governments between the wars, taken in conjunction with the policies and suggestions which they have made in the last three years, fully confirms the policy declaration of the leaders of the party, principal among them the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill), particularly in the speech which he made, almost exactly a year ago, which launched the well-known slogans about "Setting the people free" and "Letting the best man win." That speech was beautifully summed up by the Leader of the House immediately afterwards in the presence of, and without objection from, the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition. He said:
He believes that if free and unfettered competition goes ahead, and if the private profit motive is allowed full play somehow
or other all will come well."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th October, 1947; Vol. 443, c. 720.]
That sentence perfectly expresses the lodestar of Conservative philosophy, Conservative policy and Conservative hope and intention; but, unfortunately, that is the policy and the philosophy which have created the inequalities and the forces against which there is today a world-wide revolt stirring amongst the peoples of every land.
It is no use to try to contend against the social challenge of our times under the very philosophy and the very policy from which this social challenge has been created. I believe that if the Conservative Party were in power they would find themselves today completely barren of any policy, any philosophy or any plan which could in any way match up with the challenge of our times, except of course the one already referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Devon-port (Mr. Foot)—the plan of going to the Americans and persuading them, or encouraging them to drop the atom bomb now. Although I am only a back bench Member, I rejoice to be able to say that that is not the policy of His Majesty's Government. I do not know—and I should be interested to know—whether any hon. Member opposite except the leader of the party would be prepared to say that it is a policy of which he approves.
By contrast the Labour Party and the Labour Government have a plan, and a policy, and a philosophy. This policy was not patched up ad hoc to meet the particular international emergency in which we find ourselves. It has emerged out of 50 years and more of the social struggles of the British people. This policy is to show in our own country, and in such other countries as we can influence by our example, by our encouragement, and even perhaps sometimes by our material aid, that the objectives of the world-wide social revolution can be obtained by democratic means, and to show that the daemonic inequalities and the forces set up by individualism and by big business can be abolished, tamed and controlled by Governments which pay respect to the well-being and to the individual worth of the ordinary citizens and allow them full liberty to hear and say, to believe and to read what they like, and to criticise and to try to alter whatever they do not like. That is a policy which at least matches up to the magnitude of the challenge which is being brought against us.
But let us not deceive ourselves, and let us not deceive others, into supposing that this policy is anything so small and petty as a mere attempt to adopt a few devices which will enable the old kind of Britain to be run a little bit more efficiently by the same kind of people and the same kind of philosophy which mismanaged it in the years between the wars. We have faith to act patiently by democratic methods; but do not let that disguise the fact that it is our deliberate intention to bring into being a different kind of Britain run by a different philosophy, and by men who respond to different kinds of stimulii and who judge their results on different kind of criteria.
I do not know whether we shall succeed in this policy and in this plan against the resolute hostility which is directed against it from Conservative and from Communist central offices. I do not know whether we shall succeed. The task is immensely difficult. We know perfectly well that we do not always succeed immediately in finding right solutions to the many detailed problems that are brought up. And in so far as one or two hon. Members opposite during this Debate have made thoughtful and constructive speeches—not quite in the atmosphere, I thought, of a vote of censure Debate, but still speeches which I appreciated none the less—if only they could accept the general plan and purpose we put before this country, which would involve, of course, repudiating the policy poured out from their central office, they would find many of us on this side only too willing to meet and discuss with them the means by which, for example, we could introduce into the socialised industries the same kind of decentralisation which General Eisenhower introduced into the American Army, which was certainly not run for private profit. I should have thought that there could be a profitable exploration as to how these methods could be adopted.
I do not think any words of mine could be taken as meaning that. What I meant to convey was this. When we hear criticisms from hon. Members opposite, we could listen to them and take account of them, and we could discuss with hon. Members the practical possibilities of making all manner of improvements, if we felt that they accepted the general principle of reconciling social justice with individual liberty. When we hear criticism from them, knowing that they are intended to turn the whole nation back from any attempt to plan social justice, to turn us back to the philosophy of everyone out for his own self-interest, it is much harder to give serious consideration to anything they say. I am sorry I have been led into that digression, when I was dealing with the difficulties we encounter in carrying out this policy.
We have to carry with us many middle-class folk, particularly the highly qualified technicians and managers in industry, who would probably be much happier if no world forces had come along to disturb things as they were in the days of Edward VII. We have to carry them with us. It may seem attractive and even seductive to listen to the advice offered from the other side in regard to soft-pedalling our plans, that we should go slow a little bit and not break new ground until we have concentrated our attention for a little while on detailed practical problems. But the conclusive reason why this party must reject advice of that kind, is that there are other people whose sympathy and loyalty we must retain as well as the technicians and managers of industry.
We have to retain the loyalty and try to promote the enthusiasm of millions of men and women who are manual workers in our big industries and in agriculture. We have to remember that whenever we appeal for increased production for the sake of national survival we are appealing, more than to anyone else, to the men and women who put on corduroys and overalls and work, with dirty hands, in our factories and fields. I know there are exceptions, but the general rule is that the people in corduroys and overalls, and their families, are pressed much more closely up against real material want than are tens of thousands of us whose contribution to national survival is much less obvious than theirs. I am sure that that fact is very much in the minds of the many people who are working in our factories and fields.
The right hon. Member for Epsom (Mr. McCorquodale) complained the other day about the number of unofficial strikes. He knows quite well that there have been fewer days lost by industrial disturbance in each of the last three years than in almost any other year of peace. Considering that there has been full employment the demands made by organised labour have been astonishingly modest. Why? The industrial peace of our country, and the steady application to the job in hand, is largely due to the fact that those in corduroys and overalls believe that this Government is not what Stalin says it is: Ministers are not the dupes and "stooges" of big business, trying to perpetuate, by craft, the old philosophy and the old way of life, which had its evil effect on our people in the years between the wars. Far above all the technical reasons for persisting in our policy, as declared at the last election, is that there would be no semblance of national unity and effort if that belief in the integrity and purpose of this Government were to be destroyed.
In conclusion, I will say that I have been wrong on a good many things in the past, but that sometimes I have been right. For instance, I was the only Member who dared to suggest that the Arab armies would not be a match for the people of Israel——
I do not know whether my hon. Friend was before or after me in point of time, but be that as it may I hope the House will listen while I offer a word of warning: today, this country is in deadly peril. A Conservative victory at the next election would, I earnestly believe, reduce our country, in a few years, to a state of industrial, social and economic shambles not very different from what we now see in France, where they have no policy which can match the present world challenge.
In trying to pursue the policy to which the Labour Party has put its hand it seems to me possible and in many ways probable that we shall find ourselves quite shortly almost alone in the world with only perhaps a few small countries of Western Europe and our friends within our own Commonwealth. I believe we shall find ourselves in the position of having to sustain what may well be called a "political Tobruk" and from that kind of position we shall need to uphold our belief in the possibility of reconciling planned social justice and individual freedom. It will require real heroism on our part if we are to do it. I suppose I shall enjoy physically the increased allocations of sugar and of fats that have been made to us in the last day or two. I rather wish that the Minister of Food had not found himself obliged to make these allocations, because I believe it is possible and even probable that not very long from now we shall need these fats and this sugar a good deal more than we do today.
The final phrase of the hon. Member for Gravesend (Sir R. Acland) is a strong condemnation of the Government which he claims to support. It was most depressing to hear him condemn the Minister of Food for giving us some small additions to our meagrerations, because he fears that worse will come. If he believes that this Government are going to lead us into a worse position than that in which we are at the present time, I am very sorry for him. Perhaps he will cheer up just a little bit, and he will be able to make up his mind on the question of resisting the Amendment which we have on the Order Paper, about which I do not think he was quite clear, and on the next occasion when we have the pleasure of listening to him he will see the daylight. If he looks at the daylight he will find that it more likely resides on this side of the House, on which the sun shines, rather than on the other side of the House.
I was very impressed by the general theme of his speech, which appeared to me to be that the only form of democratic life which was possible in this country was under a Socialist dictatorship, and that that dictatorship could only be performed and carried out efficiently by approved Socialists all down the line of management in industry. I asked him whether he meant that and he gave me an answer which I do not think he understood himself. It took some time for him to deliver it and he will agree with me that its meaning was not very clear. I, therefore, must read into it what I believe is the common argument used by many who are proud to call themselves Socialists both inside and outside the House. Their argument rests on the basis that we can only get freedom in industry when industry is socialised—or so they believe—and we can only have a socialised or nationalised industry if everybody in the responsible positions within that industry are themselves Socialists.
The hon. Member for Gravesend and other hon. Members have talked in scathing terms—and quite rightly so—of the Nazi doctrine practised before the war, where the Nazis only existed after crushing opposition of all kinds. If any industry in this country is eventually to be completely nationalised—and that is the aim of many hon. Members opposite—they can only be run efficiently if everybody responsible is a Socialist. Does not that imply that no one will be allowed to exist in this country in any form of life except a Socialist, and that that is the final aim of nationalisation if carried out?
I should like to touch on some of the arguments which appear to dominate the Debate on the Amendment which we are supposed to be discussing this evening. It seems to me that hon. Members opposite take it for granted that because in 1945 a Socialist manifesto promised a programme of nationalization, that programme has got to be carried out and completed before 1950 at the very latest. It does not matter very much whether conditions are changed in the world or in this country. That programme has to go on at a rate which will allow its completion before 1950. That is the first fallacy held by hon. Members opposite and it was clearly stated by the hon. Member for Walton (Mr. Haworth) when he said that they had promised those things in 1945 and that they would be considered cads if they did not perform them. That was the gist of his argument.
I agree with the hon. Member and I am just coming to that point. I hope that he will equally agree that I am not misrepresenting him when I say he said: "We went to the country in 1945 and said we were going to nationalise everything from A to M, and we are going to do it, whatever the conditions are, in order to redeem that promise." That is what he said. Suppose somebody engaged a doctor—which may be rather difficult under the new legislation, but suppose one could find an independent doctor—and that doctor prescribed a dosage for him as suffering from a certain indisposition. Suppose the doctor insisted upon prescribing the same dosage at the same rate, whatever the state of health of the man might be. A doctor who applied that kind of remedy would be very soon written off the book altogether. I believe that is the mistake of hon. Members opposite; I believe it to be fallacious for them to say that whatever happens they must go on with their programme. That is just as dangerous as a doctor entirely ignoring the conditions under which a patient lives and continuing to prescribe——
I apologise to the hon. Member. I am speaking as a patient. I may know very little about these matters from the doctor's point of view but I know a great deal about them as a patient as I have suffered under many doctors. The hon. Member who challenged me asked, as the second part of his argument, whether we could prove that sufficient changes had taken place to admit of the programme being slowed down, deferred, or cancelled altogether. I ask whether it is right, and whether it is commonsense, that such a question should be put in the House of Commons at this stage of our history. Has no change taken place since 1945? Will any hon. Member say that no fundamental changes have taken place in the world position or in our own economic position in relation to other countries, and would he insist upon that? Of course, no hon. Member could do so. Not one honest Member of this House could make that assertion, and as we are all honest I say that no one could do so.
Take two examples. When that programme was enunciated in 1945, could it be foretold that the international situation would deteriorate to the level it has reached now? When hon. Members opposite submitted themselves to their electors they were far more optimistic than we were. I remember the arguments that were used at that time. They were that the Socialist Party were far more likely to get to terms with Russia than the Tory Party. The argument was put over and over again. I am not blaming them entirely for the difficulties which have arisen between this country and Russia.
The Leader of the Opposition is not the Prime Minister of this country. If he were, conditions would be very much better. We are all agreed that there has been a grave and fundamental change in the whole of the international situation as regards our international relations. That means that we must see that our defences are brought up to strength again. They have been allowed to deteriorate to such a low level because of the concentration of the activity of the Government in other directions. If our defences are to be raised to a sound level, we must be assured of supplies of the right sort of steel at the right time at a reasonable cost if the country is not to be mulcted unnecessarily and if the rebuilding of our defences is not to be delayed. Does the hon. Member for Walton agree that this has brought about a fundamental difference in our approach to the question of the nationalisation of the iron and steel industry?
We can go on using that argument but it will not lead us far. When I see an industry which is producing what we want in the way we want it at a reasonable price controlled by the Government at a time when we want it, I say that we should not disturb that industry at a vitally important moment when the disturbance may affect the rebuilding of our defences.
Let us take another instance. Was the country warned at the time of the General Election in 1945 that our economic position would be as difficult as it is now? Was the country warned that the dollar picture would be such as has developed over the last three years? Of Course, it was not.—[HON. MEMBERS: "It was."]—I remember very well the optimistic speeches made by the leaders of the Socialist Party about what was going to happen. What I would politely term "the steadier speakers" on the air representing the Labour Party said that we should have to fight hard to win hack our position as the leading industrial nation of the world, but nobody suggested anything like the picture which has developed in relation to our dollar position. At the General Election the dollar picture was never put before the country. Does not that prove that a fundamental change has taken place since the Socialist promises were made in 1945?
Is it not a fact that when Lend-Lease was first instituted it was intended that it should go on until the end of the war and not until the cessation of hostilities? Can the hon. Member tell the House how any living man could possibly have foretold to any of his constituents what was going to happen as a result of the sudden truncation of Lend-Lease?
I am not suggesting that. All I was saying was that the picture was painted very optimistically in 1945. At that time it was recognised by everybody who knew anything about it at all that some form of American loan would be absolutely essential. Of course, it was recognised. It was known perfectly well that with the end of Lend-Lease some form of American loan would be essential, but nobody knew about the way the party opposite would squander that loan when we got it. Nobody knew that they would not use that loan to re-equip our industries.
I will remind the House of a third change which has taken place since 1945. It has been admitted by several hon. Members opposite that as a result of our experience of nationalisation no solution has yet been found to the problem as to where the worker in industry fits into a vast monopoly. That has been admitted by the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot) and the hon. Member for Blackley (Mr. Diamond). Surely the fact that, after the experience we have already gained in nationalised industry, still that solution has not been found should give pause to the Government before they persist in extending the field of nationalisation? Does not that give them anything to think about?
We all know the grave difficulties which have arisen in one industry after another since it has come within the iron box of nationalisation—the claim by the worker within the industry that he is not being fully represented; the claim that he was told he would be part-owner; the claim that he was told that he would take a larger share in management; the consequent frictions and ill-feelings; the strikes and threats of strikes that have arisen because of promises that have been wildly hurled for years by hon. Members sitting opposite now that once the industry was nationalised the works would be owned and controlled by the workers. [HON. MEMBERS: "Never."] Hon. Members opposite cannot deny speeches other than their own, and it is perfectly well known to many of us that promises of that nature were made for many years. If they had not been made, if people had not been misled along those lines, why has it been found necessary for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to put his foot down and to say that in his opinion the workers in industry are not yet capable of managing it? Why was it necessary?
To go back to the point about unrest among workers, will the hon. Member tell the House the comparative figures of the millions of days wasted after the Great War under Tory or semi-Tory administration and the comparative absence of wasted days on strikes since the termination of hostilities after the last war?
No, I cannot give those figures and I do not think that point is relevant to what I am saying. I am not saying that as a result of nationalisation there has been an extension of strikes, but I say there has been a growth of friction in those industries which was not foreseen by those who have always put forward nationalisation. Again I quote the hon. Member opposite when he made an admission of grave disappointment—I admire him for making it. I shall not misinterpret his words—that he had believed—and he was speaking the truth, a truth which applies to many hon. Members opposite and I wish they would give voice to it— he had believed that those engaged in industry would work better for the State in nationalised industries than they would for the private employer. He admitted that his belief has been falsified and that he had been wrong. Is that challenged?
We all know the grave disappointment amongst those who genuinely believed in nationalisation at the actual output, the actual keenness, the actual drive which has been shown by those engaged in those industries. That urge, greater efficiency, more work, which it was always thought would appear under nationalisation, has not appeared. That, again, provides a change that was not foreseen in 1945, when these nationalisation promises were made; that, again, should give food for thought to hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, and should delay them, rather than accelerate them, when thinking of extending their policy of nationalisation.
I want to speak about another argument used by the hon. Member for Blackley (Mr. Diamond) in refuting the terms of this Amendment. He claimed that nationalisation must go on because it is the only means of democratising industry in a democracy. If that is the aim of the Government in putting forward further schemes of nationalisation, then there is nothing in the history of their actions—in the structure of those industries now nationalised—which would lead one to believe that they are getting any nearer to democratising an industry.
I can hardly believe that proof of greater democracy in industry can be found in the dismissal of miners or workers in any nationalised industry—not just from one pit, one gas works or one electricity generating plant—and by denying them the right to re-engagement in the industry in which their lives have been formed, by denying them the right to continue to work in that industry Is that democracy, or freedom, or the liberty of the worker?
I think the argument is completely destroyed that only within a nationalised industry can we have a really democratised industry. The democratisation, if that is what we are to call it, resides, in fact, only in the false name given to it of the socialisation or nationalisation of industry. If we frankly call these nationalisation schemes the building up of even greater monopolies than this country has ever known before, and do not go beyond that, there would be no great talk of the democratisation of industry; and that description would be a far fairer one than any other such as socialisation or nationalisation.
The squeezing out of other legislation by this extended programme of nationalisation is an evil thing for the people of this country. So many other matters are still awaiting, and should receive attention rather than that the Government should be concerned themselves so much with nationalisation. Defence, housing and the reconsideration of the whole question of the law of rents and rent restriction, to bring about greater freedom and greater fairness to tenant and landlord alike, are the kind of problems which should have occupied the minds of the Government.
Even more serious is the blow which has been struck at the whole system of the standards of morality and of life in this country by an attempt to iron out standards over vast fields of employment and enterprise, all within the strait-jacket of direction from the centre. It is said that our standards of morality and honesty in this country are sinking rapidly. [HoN. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Hon. Members opposite agree? [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I believe it to be true, and that one of the reasons why it is true is that, under the systems of government and of life followed by hon. Members opposite, it is beginning to be realised that the openings and the opportunities of better life available for the mass of the people will be fewer rather than greater. I believe there is deep disappointment, a deep sense that people have been mislead, and that is the reason why many who, until recent months, would never have considered themselves attracted in any way to the Communist Party are now beginning to flirt with it.
That is also the reason why many hundreds of thousands who for years have said to themselves, to their fathers, sons and wives that they would not vote Tory, are thinking of the Tory policy today to a greater degree than ever before. However many times people jeer at the Conservative Industrial Charter, for instance, they realise that we do believe in consultation with the man on the spot and that nationalised industries do not. Because they understand that, they are beginning to understand that the cause of great bitterness in all industry and big enterprise is that the man at the bottom does not count at all. We mean to make him count, but if the Socialists continue with nationalisation they will make the man who is not at the top mean less and less and the man at the top can only, finally, mean one man and he will be a dictator.
There are but a few minutes before the end of a rather long day's Debate, but so far we have not had any constructive case put by hon. Members opposite in support of their Amendment, which is, in fact, a Vote of Censure on the Government. We have merely had all the old repetitions, the old slogans and old criticisms which we have known so often repeated not only in this House but at Tory conferences, like the recent conference at Llandudno.
Instead of recognising that our people have made great efforts in the field of production, instead of recognising that our people have made great efforts in the industrial field, in the field of exports, and in the field of basic industries, in the struggle to overcome our balance of payments problem, hon. Members opposite, led by their leader, the right hon. Mem-
ber for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) have repeatedly denigrated the activities of the British people. Time and time again, in the country and in this House, hon. Members opposite have done that. Hon. Members opposite who have visited the United States of America have chosen in that country to run down Britain, an act which I believe is unpatriotic, because it is a reflection on their countrymen. We have been told that we are now a nation of "Tired Tims" and "Weary Willies." Such phrases have been used by the Tory Party and I believe they cast a slur on the British people. Yet, if we turn to neutral observers like Mr. Hoffman, who has been quoted this afternoon, we find a different view. I wish to quote from the London correspondent of the "Washington Post," Ferdinand Kuhn junior, who is reported, in the "News Chronicle "under the heading" Well done, Britain," in an article on Britain's battle for recovery, to have said:
A visitor from the Continent wonders why so many British people show so little pride in the effort their country has made. He suspects they have listened to too many speeches by Conservative politicians telling them that this is somehow a sordid, mean and ignoble chapter in their history. Actually, no other nation in Europe has done more to pull itself up by its own boot-straps.