Debate on the Address

Part of Orders of the Day — Queen's Speech – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 16th June 1955.

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Photo of Mr Thomas Hubbard Mr Thomas Hubbard , Kirkcaldy District of Burghs 12:00 am, 16th June 1955

One might well be excused for thinking that this debate was not concerned with the Gracious Speech or with the greatest difficulty we have ever faced in this country, but only whether we should have co-partnership or profit-sharing schemes, or something of that description. I believe that in these difficult times we ought to devote some part of the debate to the question of profit making before we talk about profit sharing. That is what should be uppermost in our minds at the moment.

A great deal has been said about productivity. I imagine that if everybody were concerned with the question of increased productivity and those who seem to lecture to people in industry about profit sharing and co-partnership would take a share in productivity, we would make more progress with one of the most difficult problems which we are up against —those who put nothing at all into the pool and take too much out of it. That is something which this country should not stand any longer; it is one of the things we have to overcome.

Looking back over the years since the end of the war, I would say that this country ought to be well ahead of some of the economic difficulties which are facing us now. If some of the enormous profits which are now taken out of private industry were ploughed back and used for the purchase of modern machinery which would increase productivity, we would be in a much better economic position. If we could only control the profits taken out of industry so that more could be ploughed back to increase production many of our economic problems would be solved.

Even the Government have admitted that the only industries that have been ploughing money back, which have been modernising their plant and making preparations for the future, are the very industries which hon. Members opposite, and particularly the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Bedford (Captain Soames), have been criticising, namely, some of the nationalised industries, including the coal industry. If anyone goes to the coast of Fife today they will see in the Firth of Forth a manmade island. We are making inroads into our coal requirements, and unless we are able to overcome that problem, no matter what may be said about profit sharing and co-partnership, there will be no profits to share. Nineteen out of twenty industries in the country have been dependent upon coal, and when the coal industry was nationalised it was running at a dead loss. Nobody on the other side of the House ever suggests that it should be denationalised.

It must be remembered that coal is practically the only mineral raw material that we have in any worthwhile quantity. Goodness knows what would have happened to the country had the coal industry not been nationalised. Work on the island in the Firth of Forth has been done to prove the coal measures under the basin of the Forth, and a tremendous amount of money is being spent to ensure that we get the coal that we need. I often wonder why private enterprise so neglected the industry as to leave the country unable to face up to its economic difficulties after the war.

It is easy for hon. Members opposite to claim what a wonderful job the Tory Government have done. They have made great play about prosperity and the number of houses they have built. If we were more realistic, we would accept that no Government builds houses. I admit, of course, that a similar claim was made by the Labour Government. It is the local authorities who have the job of building houses and who arrange for the builders to build them. It is the local authorities who pay for them, and when we come down to the question of profits we must take that into consideration.

Not only must we get productivity, but we must get it at a price at which we can sell our goods overseas; and, as far as we know, those markets might become extremely difficult in the near future. if the top-level talks are a success, a great deal of the time and money that has been devoted to defence will be redundant; and if those talks are not a success then, obviously, that production for war purposes takes us nowhere. We still remain dependent upon our raw materials. We must, therefore, think realistically.

What is the effect of the Government's housing policy, taken in conjunction with their monetary policy? It is all very well for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to increase the Bank Rate, which his Government have done twice, to curb expenditure on the home market and, at the same time, to tell local authorities that they must build more houses, but the immediate effect of that is to increase the cost of productivity.

Every time that the Bank Rate goes up, the Public Works Loan Board rate of interest to local authorities goes up. It went up again in February. For all we know, and despite what the Chancellor has said to the contrary, there may be another increase in the Bank Rate this year; yet local authorities are asked to build more houses. They have built a tremendous number in recent years at ever-increasing cost.

Let me quote as an illustration my constituency of 50,000 people. The housing debt which has accrued in Kirkcaldy is £4½ million. The rate product is £450,000 a year. Two years ago, in 1953, the capital debt for housing was £4 million, and this year the capital debt for housing alone will be £6 million. This means, in effect, that our grandchildren will be paying for the houses which the Tory Government claim to be building.

The obvious result of all this is that rents have risen to their highest-ever figure. Rates, an important item in Scotland, have reached their highest figure in history. The immediate effect of this is that workers demand increased wages so that they can pay the rents for their houses. Rents have been artificially boosted because of increases in the Bank Rate and in the Public Works Loan Board interest rate. That is no way out of our difficulties, but it seems to be the only way in which the Tory Government have set about this problem.

The cuts in the food subsidies and the increases in the Bank Rate force the ordinary workers who do not enjoy profit sharing to demand increases in wages. If miners demand and get increased money, the cost of coal rises, and similarly with transport and the manufacture of goods. Although we have had tremendous increases in productivity since the war, there has been this rapid upward spiral and, because of the action of the Tory Government, we have failed to derive the advantage.

I say seriously to the Government that we are shareholders, that we on this side of the House have just as big a stake in the country as anyone on the other side. The worker in industry has just as big a stake in the country as the managing director of his firm. If an economic crash should come, not only the bosses, but the workers themselves, will suffer. If we are to look forward with any hope to the solving of our economic crisis, we must get down to clear thinking on both sides of the House.

Nobody wishes to dwell on his experiences in pre-war years, but the memory of them remains. The country suffered tremendous difficulties during that time. There have always been economic crises —at any rate, I remember them since the days when I was at school. I do not suggest that we will ever go back to that same kind of life, but we must move very cautiously to ensure that those days do not return.

There must be some limitation of the issuing of bonus shares. These things must not only be just, but they must appear to be just. The Government cannot convince the lower wage earners that they must make greater effort when, every year, they read of £100 worth of shares being increased to £200 and of the payment of 40 per cent. dividends. That does not contribute to productivity. If this sort of thing continues and we run into difficulties, either because the top level talks are a success or because they are not a success, we must be careful that we do not have a conflict between industry and parliamentary government. That would bring chaos to the country, it would bring down the Government in a month, and it is something that we must avoid. The only way to avoid it is to make it quite clear that we are all shareholders with a stake in the country.

It is no use reading the Unilever figures and then hear the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Sir R. Boothby) say that he still supports monopolies. That kind of argument carries no weight whatever. If we are to go forward and conquer our difficulties—the difficulty, indeed, that brought about the Election —we must get away from the merely academic question of whether at some time in the distant future we are to have co-partnership or profit sharing. We have co-partnership and a stake in the country now, and the Government and the Chancellor of the Exchequer must recognise this. The right hon. Gentleman today told us nothing of how we are to overcome these difficulties, but made a few abstract statements. If he wants a bigger increase in production, he must ensure that everybody makes a contribution to the pool. Far too many people still go about without making any contribution whatever.

It must be a matter of real regret to most people that in these difficult times, with the dangers of inflation facing us and with all the talk of co-partnership and profit sharing, the old-age pensioners, who really built the great industry of this country, are suffering so severely. Will the Government take them into co-partnership, and give them a share? Will they give the people who really run industry a share in the profits? Perhaps we shall when we get a Government which is prepared to do that, which is capable of clear thinking, and will recognise that, although there may be different views by opposite political parties, at the end of the day we all have to face the common task of being fair to all, which is the only way in which we can hope to solve these awful difficulties.