Orders of the Day — Economic Position

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 30th July 1952.

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Photo of Mr Aneurin Bevan Mr Aneurin Bevan , Ebbw Vale 12:00 am, 30th July 1952

This has been discussed so frequently that the knowledge is now elementary. We know very well that there was an absolute decline in the production of coal, because the Conservative policy had poisoned the pits. We could not get people into the pits. No one denies that.

But I do not want to be deflected from this point; this anxiety is universal, and if Great Britain is to pull herself out of this series of prolonged crises, accompanied by unwholesome debates of this sort, we can only do it by pursuing a sustained drive to correct the physical facts.

It is part of my case—and it is not because I have a King Charles' head about it—that that sustained drive must be provided by a Minister who is not necessarily occupied all the time with short-term money accounts. Therefore, I am pleading that there shall be established in Great Britain a Minister for economic expansion, and that that Minister should be made responsible for raw materials.

When I was in the Government I implored my right hon. Friend who is now the Leader of the Opposition to pay attention to the increasing shortage of raw materials, and particularly of non-ferrous metals, particularly of sulphur. Once more people are becoming complacent because stocks are up. Why are they up? Because production is down. As soon as we start producing in greater quantities, stocks once more will be exhausted. We have just heard from the United States, following talks about the shortage of raw materials, a very interesting and impressive report about the effect on the American economy of raw materials outside, in which we are told that within a measurable distance, 20 years or so. America will have to import 50 per cent. of her needs in raw materials.

Hon. Members must realise that this is a most ominous situation for a manufacturing country like ourselves. My right hon. Friend, when Prime Minister, did recognise the seriousness of the issue sufficiently to appoint a Minister of raw materials. I thought that was a mistake—not because I disagreed with the calibre of the right hon. Gentleman who was put into that office; I have great admiration, affection and respect for him; but that was not the right way to do it, because all he could do would be to run around nervously probing other Departments. And although I know that he could easily make his voice heard, echoes do not reverberate very long in Whitehall.

Therefore, what I am pleading for is that we should have a Minister for British economic expansion who would be responsible for keeping a vigilant eye upon the future—not only tomorrow, not only to talk about what we are to do with a balance of payments crisis in 1952–53, but how Great Britain is to face the economic crises of the next 25 years or more. And we can do that only by having the right machine.

I made other suggestions. I suggested that the Ministry of Health should be divided, and it was. The Health Department was hived off, and the Ministry of Local Government and Planning was begun. I will make some further suggestions. The difficulty is that we are looking at the Governmental machine only from the point of view of dismissing a few civil servants. That is too shortsighted. We ought to see whether the governmental machine today has been adjusted to the changes that have taken place in governmental functions.

Obviously, very many important changes have taken place. Industries have been nationalised and transferred, as to their detailed day-to-day administration, to boards. I therefore suggest it is no use merely having the same Minister for Civil Aviation and Transport. There has been no amalgamation of the Departments. The departments are still there. They still have separate addresses. They still have the same permanent secretaries. There is no amalgamation. It is merely a change of nomenclature. It is not an organic change in the structure of the Departments. I suggest, therefore, that those two Departments be immediately organically amalgamated.

Furthermore, I suggest that the Ministry of Pensions be divided; that the cash paying and appeals machinery be handed over to the Ministry of Labour, that Ministry having plenty of experience of this work and plenty of skilled officers. In the next place, the therapeutical side of the Ministry of Pensions, the hospitals, should be handed over to the Ministry of Health, where it belongs, because a sick soldier is merely a sick individual, and should be passed over to the civil Department until he has recovered and then, if it is required, pass him back to the military. This would save another Department by changes which are administratively desirable.

Then I should hand over the Ministry of National Insurance. I am not suggesting that this will be universally popular. I am sure that my suggestions will not be popular in Whitehall. Nevertheless, let us have a look at them. It seems to me that we should look at the Ministry of National Insurance at once, because that Ministry has done its main job. It is now a collecting and paying-out concern, with machinery for appeal. There is not the slightest reason why that should not be handed over to the Ministry of Labour which has offices all over the country. Often economies of space could easily be found in the provinces by the use of the same premises. Why not?

In the next place, I suggest that steel should be handed over to the Ministry of Fuel and Power, because the Minister of Supply is too busy. He has been too mischievous as well as too busy recently. Nevertheless, here we have a huge Department with great administrative difficulties, whereas the Ministry of Fuel and Power have to administer only a Department whose main functions are discharged by statutory boards. Therefore, I would take that away from the Ministry of Supply and hand it over to the Ministry of Fuel and Power.

Then I would take Works and put it into the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. Do not let us be kidded, if I may use a colloquialism, by the speeches made by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, who says that he has carried his palliasse into the Ministry of Health—sleeping night and day, getting up and working now and again, giving such vigilant attention to the housing drive.

I know enough about the old Ministry of Health to know that the fact is that once one has assembled building materials and building labour the housing programme is an administrative job. The housing programme is a function of the capital investment programme. One can increase the number of houses or reduce the number of houses just as one declares them to be in priority with the rest of the capital investment programme. The fact is that they are both of them half-idle Ministers. Do not let us be kidded by the fact that this crusading spirit occupies no more than a few perorations.

Therefore, I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman, because he has had great experience in many Departments, that he transfers Works to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government and that he reduces it to its old position with a First Commissioner for Works.