Orders of the Day — Defence (Government Policy)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 15th February 1951.

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Photo of Mr David Maxwell Fyfe Mr David Maxwell Fyfe , Liverpool, West Derby 12:00 am, 15th February 1951

As I have said, I understood the right hon. Gentleman to be making that implication. If he was not, I of course withdraw it.

The other point on which we have had no satisfaction during the debate is the question of European co-operation and integration. There are really two points there. There is, first, the refusal of the Government to co-operate with France and to give any encouragement to France in the creation of a European Army. That point has been met. The second point—and here I want to clear up any misconception there may be concerning our words about it—is this: a number of hon. Members opposite have talked about German re-armament. No one that I have heard speak in this House from any quarter is in favour of German national re-armament, and no political party in Germany, at any rate no party that has any strength in the Bundesrat, is in favour of German national re-armament.

What is asked for—and this is one of the great divergencies—is that the Germans should provide contingents to an integrated army, perhaps in a European section of the Atlantic Treaty Powers Army but certainly as part of that Army. I believe that it is in that provision of a contingent to an integrated force that one sees the hope of co-operation between France and Germany, and the curing of the position which has meant so much ill to both in the past.

I now want to deal, very shortly, as I must, with the economic aspect of the matter, and therefore if I make my points in outline, I am sure the House will forgive me. The first point is this. The Chancellor of the Exchequer told us that the additions would be £500 million to the present level of £800 million for defence in the first year and £1,000 million in the third year. I am taking the figure of £800 million in the second year. I should be glad if the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour could tell us this. Have the Government estimated what the Forces and the production, based on our present figure of £800 million at the time it was estimated, would be simply due to the inflation and the rise in prices, that is, how much of the £500 million is due simply to the rise in prices and how much is due to our increase in strength.

There is a second point I want to press with seriousness, and again I am sure hon. Gentlemen opposite will appreciate how vital this is. The right hon. Gentleman said that his economic calculations are based on the fact that the increase of productivity will decline from 7 per cent. to 4 per cent. I see no reason at all, and no excuse at all, why there should be a decrease of productivity after the first year. I think it is a very serious matter that the Government bring these proposals in such an inchoate and ill-thought-out way that they are admitting there is going to be a decrease of nearly 50 per cent. in our rate of increased productivity because of this programme.

The other point I want to make follows from the figures. If one takes the ordinary increase to the national income at £600 million a year on the 7 per cent. basis that would be, on the Chancellor's figures, £350 million a year. Of that the Treasury will, by the ordinary incidence of taxation, get about half—£175 million. The Chancellor, therefore, has to find £325 million as the gap between that and the increase in armaments expenditure.

That is, again, for the first year. It ought to be less in the next year if the Government get this programme going in a way that will show increased output. It ought to be still less the third year, but, whatever it is, that gap is going to fall on and affect the standard of living of the people of this country. The very fact that there will be that gap lays a heavier and more onerous duty and responsibility upon the Government to make the cuts in their other expenditure for which we have pressed—in central Government, by a check on local expenditure, by reconsideration of the compulsory saving policy that is in force at the moment. All these things must be done, because otherwise we are going to have the vicious spiral going on; and the people who are affected most by this gap which the Government say must happen because of the inequalities of production are those who are suffering from the position of the standard of living today.

The Chancellor said, with regard to raw materials, that he could not be precise about the steps that he proposed to take and how the materials should be steered towards re-armament; but I want to put to him the point that we want to know whether he has considered in what materials there is a real world shortage—apart from sulphur, which he explained—and in what we are merely feeling the effects of stock-piling by other countries. An early opportunity ought to be given to us so that we shall know what is the view of the Government on that matter.

Again, and more important, we should know what steps they have taken to deal with stock-piling by the United States and others so that it will not adversely affect us. Again, as I understood the Chancellor of the Exchequer—and he was speaking only in outline—said that the labour force would come first from existing factories turned over to re-armament and where there was at the moment a shortage in some cases; secondly, it would come from where the effects of raw materials would show themselves.

I was happy to note that the Chancellor of the Exchequer did not say it was intended to apply any direction of labour at this time. I should like to get an assurance from the Minister of Labour, whose particular province it is, that that omission was deliberate and correct. The other three points are so clear that I want to put them on record. I am surprised that we have not had more consideration given to them. The Chancellor mentioned the danger of inflation, but he did not relate the question of inflation and disinflation to the problem of mobility of labour. I am sure we ought to know the Government's view on this point—and it is obviously one of the most important—of how mobility of labour is to be obtained.

I turn to my last point, and I promise that I will then conclude. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Well, I have had one or two interruptions. This point concerns restrictive practices. The right hon. Gentleman knows that a long time ago—I think it was two years ago—a committee started inquiring into that subject. We have several times asked about it in the House but we have had no satisfaction. That is a matter which I think ought to be considered when the vital question of this aspect is how we are to keep our production and output going on.

Hon. Gentlemen opposite have challenged us again and again about why we have put down this Amendment. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] We have been challenged over and over again; I have been listening to the debate. It is quite true that the hon. Member for Preston, South (Mr. Shackleton), not only challenged but put the answer himself, because he said it was quite clear that our reason was that we wanted to get hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite out, while they would vote against us because they wanted to keep hon. and right hon. Gentlemen in. He was quite blunt about it.

I want to make the position quite clear, because it would be wrong to speak to this Amendment without saying it. We have said that we have no confidence in the Ministers who are in charge of this programme. With regard to the Minister of Defence, we are bound to look back—and who would not look back?—to the fuel crisis of 1947. When the right hon. Gentleman gave his undertaking to the Z Reservists yesterday that they would not be called up next year, we remembered rather bitterly the undertakings which he gave to industry and the country that there would be no cuts.

Here is one of the most intricate economic and administrative problems ever put before the country. It is in the hands of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War, whose claim to administrative fame is just in the word "groundnuts." But it does not really stop there. This is the point: in a short time we shall hear the result from Bristol, West, and the result is, of course, perfectly obvious; but suppose it were the other way round. Suppose the winner were Mr. Lawrance, who says, as he is reported in today's papers, "I do not believe in re-armament but if I am returned I will vote for this Motion." The Government are attempting to bring in their programme on the strength and by the votes of those who disagree with their programme and have not the slightest confidence in any proposal which has been put forward. That is a mockery of Parliamentary democracy. The hon. Member for Preston, South spoke the one correct word—that they are voting only to keep us out. [Interruption.] When a great idealist party of the past has come down to that cynical view of the present, the country will judge, and judge soon.