Labour Attaches

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 29th June 1953.

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Photo of Viscount  Hinchingbrooke Viscount Hinchingbrooke , South Dorset 12:00 am, 29th June 1953

The comparison between 1952 and 1953 is difficult to make, because specific figures were not given, but if there was a fall of five between 1950 and 1953, I do not regard that as being so very appalling, considering the economic crisis which this Government inherited from right hon. Members opposite and the large-scale reduction in costs which had to be made. Thirty thousand pounds is a significant sum in this particular field, but by no means too large. I do not see why labour attachés should be excluded from the general economies which the Government are making, to the great delight of hon. Members on this side of the Committee.

The right hon. Member went on to quote from certain documents, and told us what were the duties of these labour attachés. They had to inform the heads of their Missions of all important developments within their sphere of interest. What is their sphere of interest? That is what we have to turn our attention to this afternoon. If the sphere of interest is in the realm of the organisation of workers—to use a phrase which occurs in current Socialist legislation; in the Acts of nationalisation—that is to say the status and development of trade unions in a social democracy, to which the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East referred, there is no objection, but if the sphere of interest includes political and ideological fields, and the labour attaché is to interpret to the ambassador on the spot what is the next political development in the country concerned, there is some doubt about the matter.

I thought the British Foreign Office was sufficiently skilled, and that it had had sufficient experience over several hundred years, for an ambassador and his immediate staff to be able to interpret the political scene to the Government of the day, and that the trend in recent years had been to appoint labour attachés to study and report on trade union activities and the growth of labour institutions.

The right hon. Gentleman, of course, let the cat out of the bag when he spoke of the failure before the war to interpret at home what was happening in Italian and Spanish relations. Obviously, he had a case, to some extent, for we did experience a deficiency. He suggested that we should have had these labour attachés, skilled in Left-Wing politics and the doctrine of collectivism, who ought to have talked to the ambassadors and warned them of the insipient Fascist dangers. That is the case the right hon. Gentleman made.