Skip to main content

Commons Chamber

Volume 463: debated on Monday 11 April 1949

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

House Of Commons

Monday, 11th April, 1949

The House met at Half-past Two o'Clock


[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Private Business

Teignmouth And Shaldon Bridge Bill

Read the Third time, and passed.

Oral Answers To Questions

Ministry Of Supply

Motorcars (Home Market)


asked the Minister of Supply whether he will make a statement concerning the allocation of cars to the home market.

Yes, Sir. It is essential that we should continue to make every effort to export the maximum number of cars and for that reason no reduction can be made in the export target of 75 per cent. of output. Steel allocations to car manufacturers will continue to depend on export performances, particularly to hard currency markets. The achievement of the 75 per cent. target would leave about the same number of cars for the home market as last year. However, in order to give manufacturers greater flexibility, they will no longer be asked to keep rigidly within quarterly allocations for the home market as long as their exports over a reasonable period attain the required level.

Will my right hon. Friend make available to the motor industry whatever steel is necessary to maintain an increased output both for the home and export markets?

All I can say is that the allocation of steel to the motor industry has been substantially increased.

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider releasing cars to local authorities, in view of the great shortage of cars for nurses at present?

In view of the anxiety felt among some workers in the motor industry, will my right hon. Friend make it plain that, whatever the balance between the home and export markets, it is the Government's overriding intention to ensure full employment for the industry's workers so long as the present good record of the industry continues?

We should like to do that, but it is quite impossible to allocate large quantities of steel, which is scarce, for a large number of cars for the home market.

Lead Prices


asked the Minister of Supply what price he is paying for lead abroad; what price he charges the British consumer for this lead; and when he proposes to bring these prices into line.

It would be contrary to established practice to disclose contract prices. The price of lead to consumers in the United Kingdom was reduced on 4th April, 1949, from £123 a ton to £106 a ton delivered.

Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that, although there has been a reduction in price, our manufacturers are having to pay £106 a ton for lead while America is paying £82? Is it not a disastrous state of affairs, when markets are falling away, that we should continue with bulk purchase? Why not re-open the London Metal Exchange?

Considerable freight has to be paid between America and the United Kingdom, and the figures which the hon. Member gave are not strictly comparable. It is our object to keep the price reasonably stable over as long a period as possible. There were times when our price was below that of America.

If the hon. Gentleman will put down a Question about freights. I will give him an answer.

Is it not a fact that the Minister himself decides the price, roughly, every quarter, and that at the moment prices are having an adverse effect on certain manufacturers in Birmingham, where people are not able to anticipate what the next price will be?

Steel Scrap Prices


asked the Minister of Supply what is the price of German steel scrap which is being purchased by a Government agency; what the cost is of delivery to Scottish ports; and how these prices compare with world prices.

The export price of German steel scrap is £7 2s. 6d. a long ton free alongside German port. The average cost of delivery to Scottish ports, including the cost of handling at German ports, brings the price to £9 2s. 6d. a ton free alongside Scottish ports. The price of £7 2s. 6d., reached by agreement between the United Kingdom and the United States Governments, was based on the world price ruling in October, 1948.

Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that this price is £3 more than the home price for scrap, and that the world price is falling? Will he approach the United States Government with a view to seeing that it is brought more or less into line with the American price, which is 20 dollars per ton, compared with 28 dollars per ton?

The difference between the home price and the German scrap price arises from the fact that there is a strict control of the home price, which keeps it low. There may be some revision of the German scrap price.

Iron And Steel (Western Europe)


asked the Minister of Supply how the British proportion of the £75 million applied for by the Economic Co-operation Administration on behalf of the iron and steel industry of Western Europe is composed.

The facts on which the hon. and gallant Member's Question is based are incorrect. The position is that £25 million (not £75 million) has been applied for, not by E.C.A. but by countries participating in O.E.E.C., for schemes approved by that organisation. The United Kingdom's share is about £7¾ million, of which nearly £6¾ million is for the Steel Company of Wales, and a little over £1 million for Messrs. Stewarts and Lloyds.

Since this is the first composite demand by the countries of Western Europe to America for aid, does not the right hon. Gentleman think it would be desirable to state whether this is a loan or a grant and what conditions are attached to it, and in general, to disclose the whole situation? It is an historic incident.

All that has happened is that application has been made to E.C.A. for these sums. It is not possible to say now whether the loan or grant will be made and, if so, whether there will be any conditions.

Government Contractors List


asked the Minister of Supply whether the firm of Pratt's, drapers and furnishers, of Streatham, is on the list of Government contractors.

Can my right hon. Friend say whether considerations of national security make it essential for this firm and other drapery shops of the John Lewis Partnership to conduct a political purge of their employees? Will he make it clear that the Government do not favour this kind of unnecessary discrimination where it serves no public interests?

I should not have thought that any security aspect was involved. As my hon. and gallant Friend is aware, the Government take steps in this direction only where the question of high security is involved, and in no other circumstances.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that even in those cases in which the Government take action it is not by way of discrimination against employment, but that they do their best to provide those affected with other employment?

Palace Of Westminster (Lighting)


asked the Minister of Works if he will now arrange for the more satisfactory lighting of Westminster Palace, especially those places of most interest to the public.

The use of some of the existing lights in the Palace of Westminster has been restricted to save fuel. I am arranging that these economy measures should be relaxed so far as this can be done without exceeding the financial provision made in the Estimates. I cannot undertake the installation of any additional fittings until the new sub-station is in operation.

As, very shortly, many tourists will be coming to these islands, does not my right hon. Friend think it is at least desirable, while bearing in mind Budget restrictions, that we should throw as much light on our historic places at Westminster as we do on Piccadilly after dark?

When the new sub-station is in operation next year, I may be able to do a good deal then.

Will the drab and dim Central Lobby be better lighted, and the enormous candelabra hanging therein be attended to?

Falkland Islands


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether his attention has been drawn to the refusal of the Argentine authorities to recognise the validity of birth certificates issued in the Falkland Islands to British subjects; and what action he proposes to take.

Yes, Sir. The refusal of the Argentine authorities to recognise the validity of documents issued in the Falkland Islands is believed to be based on the Argentine Government's claim to sovereignty over these islands. The Falkland Islands are, and have been for over 100 years, governed by the United Kingdom and the Argentine claim has no foundation. Our position has been made clear to the Argentine Government in numerous diplomatic notes. The action of the Argentine authorities can affect neither the British title to the islands nor the position of the persons concerned as citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies, and it is therefore not proposed to take further diplomatic action.

While thanking the Under-Secretary for that answer, may I ask him whether the decision of the Argentine Federal Court, based on the pretension that the Falklands are Argentine territory, amounts to a declaration that Falkland Islanders are Argentine subjects? Is not that a matter of the greatest possible importance?

It is a declaration which we dispute and in any case it does not affect the British nationality of the persons concerned.


Buenos Aires Transport Corporation


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (1) what are the exact claims which His Majesty's Ambassador in Buenos Aires is putting before the Argentine Government as due to the British shareholders in the Buenos Aires Transport Corporation; and how far has the Argentine Government failed to comply with agreements, contracts, or guarantees entered into with this Corporation since 1936; and how much money is involved;

(2) whether, in view of the conversations going on at present between the British Ambassador in Buenos Aires and the Argentine Foreign Secretary concerning compensation to be paid to British shareholders in the Buenos Aires Tramway Corporation, any postponement of the liquidation of the assets scheduled for Tuesday, 12th April, can be arranged until some arrangement has been reached.

The instructions of His Majesty's Ambassador at Buenos Aires are to try to bring about direct negotiations between the British companies forming part of the Buenos Aires Transport Corporation and the Argentine Government, with a view to the purchase by the latter of the companies' holdings at an acceptable figure. If agreement on this course can be reached, the date fixed for the liquidation of the Corporation will, presumably, be deferred. The Anglo-Argentine Tramways Company consider that the Argentine Government has not adhered either to the terms on which the Buenos Aires Transport Corporation was set up in 1938, or to the terms of a financial agreement signed in 1942 between the Argentine Government, the Buenos Aires Transport Corporation and a financial group. My right hon. Friend has not been informed of the total amount claimed by the various companies concerned, nor what figure they would regard as acceptable.

While appreciating that the hon. Gentleman cannot go into any further detail while the negotiations are in progress, may I ask him if he will bear in mind that the original sum suggested by Senor Miranda, amounting to over £11 million, would mean something like 4d. on our meat ration? As the sum claimed by the Anglo-Argentine Tramways Company for the Buenos Aires Corporation is about £20 million, which would be about 8d. worth of meat on our meat ration, will he assure us that British shareholders' claims will continue to be backed by the Government even if liquidation is forced within the next few days?

Meat Shipments


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what was the date upon which, at the request of the Minister of Food, His Majesty's Ambassador in the Argentine was instructed to bring pressure on the Argentine Government at the highest level to speed up shipments of meat.

His Majesty's Ambassador at Buenos Aires was instructed by telegram on 10th December last to inform the Argentine Government immediately of the unsatisfactory situation resulting from their having fallen behind in shipments of meat, and to request assurances of improvement in these shipments due under the Andes Agreement.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food stated, on 17th March, that at the time these representations were made it was physically impossible for meat to be delivered by the end of the contract date? Why has the matter been left until it is too late?

That is clearly a matter for my right hon. Friend the Minister of Food who, I am sure, will enjoy answering it in due course.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that if we try to question the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food on matters coming within the ambit of the Foreign Office, our inquiries are transferred to the hon. Gentleman's Department?

Is there any reason why my hon. Friend should answer when the Minister of Food was refused an opportunity of answering in the food Debate recently?

North Atlantic Pact


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will raise the question with the other signatories of the North Atlantic Treaty as to inviting the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics to become a signatory.

What is the objection? In explaining to the House what his objection is, will the hon. Gentleman bear in mind the statement made in Washington officially the other day that they had no objection to the Soviet Union taking part in the Atlantic Pact subject to one or two provisos? Surely, the hon. Gentleman will conform with what Washington wants?

I am not aware of the Washington statement, but in view of the attitude of the Soviet Government to the Pact, the hon. Member's suggestion is purely academic.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the Pact is described in the Communist Press as a capitalist conspiracy against the Soviet Union?

Poland (British Property)


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if the Polish Government has yet agreed to pay compensation for nationalised British property in Poland.

Yes, Sir. The Polish Government agreed in principle to pay compensation for nationalised British property in Poland in the agreed minute of 31st October, 1947, which was published as a White Paper, but no arrangements could be made for transfers at that time. The Anglo-Polish Trade and Finance Agreement of 14th January, 1949, provides for the payment of certain funds for the satisfaction of British claims for compensation. A Polish delegation recently spent a month in London discussing compensation with representatives of the owners of British nationalised property, and they have undertaken to return in June to continue the negotiations.

Will the hon. Gentleman watch these negotiations carefully to see that we receive fair compensation?

South Schleswig (Scout Uniforms)


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs why members of the Danish South Schleswig Boy Scouts Association are not allowed to wear their uniforms, whereas they were allowed to do so during the whole of the Nazi régime; and whether he will now consent to allow them to wear their uniforms.

Under a special dispensation by Military Government, the children of Danish-minded parents in South Schleswig who were members of the Association in question have been permitted to wear their uniforms, though not in public, since 4th March, 1946. This concession did not apply to German children in other parts of the British zone. On 7th February, 1949, however, the British authorities issued a new instruction stating that the wearing of scout dress was freely permitted throughout the British zone.

Is the Under-Secretary of State not aware of the value of this splendid organisation, and should not His Majesty's Government give their fullest support to it?

Cardinal Mindszenty (Appeal)


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he has any further information concerning the appeal of Cardinal Mindszenty.

I regret I have nothing to add to the reply given to the hon. Member on 16th March last.

Can the Under-Secretary say whether anything further has been done on the part of His Majesty's Government, and is it not possible for the Hungarian Government deliberately not to permit an appeal to be made so that if the matter comes before the United Nations they can say that it is still sub judice?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the note which we sent recently to the Hungarian Government, as he may also know that this matter is to be raised at the General Assembly of the United Nations.

Germany (Icelandic Fish)


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs how much fresh fish from Iceland has been contracted for by the Control Commission for delivery to Altona and Hamburg; and to what extent does the British taxpayer bear the cost.

A contract is being placed with Iceland for the delivery during 1949 of up to 67,000 tons of fresh fish to the Western zones of Germany. The cost is being met by His Majesty's Government and is due for repayment from the proceeds of future German imports.

In view of the food shortage here, can we afford to buy 60 thousand odd tons of fresh fish, for which the British taxpayer has to pay, for Germany, and is it not time that we let the Germans fish in Icelandic waters as they have done for many years?

Can the Under-Secretary say what progress has been made by the Germans with the trawlers which they have been allowed to build?

Why is it that the Foreign Office will not permit the Germans to build trawlers a little bigger than those now being built so that they can fish Icelandic waters, which they are willing to do?

Food Supplies



asked the Minister of Food whether he will now remove all the controls on poultry buying and supplying with a view to preventing the black market extending owing to the increasing public demand for poultry, due to the reduced meat ration.

I regret that my right hon. Friend cannot yet make any announcement on this subject.

Does the Parliamentary Secretary realise the great hardship on the poultry keepers as the result of the increase in the price of feeding-stuffs? Is it not necessary to make some further adjustment to prevent the spread of the black market?

Animal Fats


asked the Minister of Food as leading medical authorities attribute the tiredness and apathy of large sections of the public today to the fact that these people are getting a diet with insufficient animal fats, what steps he is taking to remedy this as far as practicable by providing additional quantities and varieties of other commodities to take their place.

The Economic Survey for 1949 estimates that total fat supplies (including animal fats) will be some 5 per cent. higher and supplies of fat sold in the form of fat (including butter) some 12 per cent. higher in 1948–49 than in the previous 12 months. But naturally we are doing all we can to improve supplies still further.

Surely the right hon. Lady realises that one of the greatest energy givers would be an additional supply of sugar? Has she ever heard of the demand for more sugar?

Has the right hon. Lady not noted with alarm the tiredness and apathy of the Socialist supporters in the county council elections?

Fruit And Vegetables (Director)


asked the Minister of Food what is the name of his Department's Director of Fresh Fruit and Vegetables; and if he will give details of his qualifications for this post.

I would refer the hon. Member to the statement circulated in the OFFICIAL REPORT on 28th March.

Is the right hon. Lady aware that fresh fruit and vegetables would be much better distributed and a larger number available if this appointment were dispensed with? Is not the present holder of the office a joke in the trade?



asked the Minister of Food if he will make an advance payment on all potatoes purchased by his Department.

All growers receive the acreage payment, usually in the autumn, which is, in effect, an advance payment equivalent to about 30s. per ton. In addition, advance payments are made on potatoes bought by my Department for end of season use. My right, hon. Friend is not able to do more than this.


asked the Minister of Food why, in view of the large surplus of potatoes, a circular from the Potato and Carrot Division, dated 31st March, 1949, Ref. A/E No. 90/, has been sent to merchants, stating that no further orders can be accepted for English grade A potatoes and that Gladstones from Ireland are still available.

There is no surplus of English grade A potatoes and Ministry stocks offered to London merchants have all been taken up. The attention of the trade was, however, drawn to the Northern Ireland Gladstones, as my Department is responsible for moving the United Kingdom surplus as a whole.

Can the right hon. Lady say how many tons of grade A potatoes, which the Minister bought under the guaranteed price, have been used for stock feed?

It is quite impossible for me to do so, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that those which were used for stock feed were deteriorating.

Ministry (Temporary Clerks)


asked the Minister of Food how many temporary clerks have been engaged by his Department for the work of issuing new ration books; for what period they were engaged; and if he is satisfied that the terms of the engagement made clear that employment was on a daily or hourly basis and that no wages would be received for days lost, owing to food offices being closed for Easter holidays.

Thirteen thousand four hundred and thirty temporary clerks have been engaged for this work. While they are mostly employed on a day-to-day basis, they are given an indication of how long they will be needed. If it is intended to continue their employment after Easter they will be paid for the Easter holiday. These clerks are recruited through the Employment Exchanges and the conditions of employment are made clear to them.

While thanking my right hon. Friend for that assurance, may I ask whether the payment of those whose services will be further employed after Easter will apply to those areas where the offices close for one week at Easter time?

I would like notice of that, but I think I can assure my hon. Friend that that is so.

Can the Parliamentary Secretary say whether these temporary clerks have to tear out the clothing ration books from the new food ration books, as they are no longer required?

Identity Cards (Stamping)


asked the Minister of Food under what statutory powers his officers are authorised to stamp or otherwise mark identity cards.

By the authority of the Registrar-General, under Regulation 31A of the National Registration Regulations (S.R. & O. 1941 No. 991).

Meat Ration


asked the Minister of Food how he will relate the increase in the price of meat to the meat ration.


asked the Minister of Food what changes he is making in the money value of the meat ration so as to prevent the rise in price reducing the quantity permitted on the ration; and when these changes will take effect.

Can my right hon. Friend say when that is likely to be, and will she try her utmost to make it as soon as possible so that both the consumers and the butchers will know where they stand in this matter?

Could the right hon. Lady give an absolute assurance that none of these changes will result in any reduction in the actual quantity of meat permitted?

I think so, yes. [HON. MEMBERS: "You think so?"] I can give the assurance.

Linseed Oil Imports


asked the Minister of Food what are the main countries from which linseed oil is being imported; and what are the relative prices he is paying.

The main country from which linseed oil is being imported at the present time is Uruguay. It is not in the public interest to disclose information about buying prices.

Could the Minister at least say whether we are buying from the United States and what are the relative prices which we are paying to the United States compared with those which we are paying to other countries? Is it not a fact that we are paying much more?

No, Sir, we are not buying from the United States because of the dollar situation.

Does that mean that the previous greatest supplier of linseed oil, the Argentine, is altogether out of the negotiations?

Sugar (Brewing Industry)

33 and 34.

asked the Minister of Food (1) whether he is aware that, as a result of the 1938 figure being taken as the datum year, brewers in 1948 received only 60.2 per cent. of their normal sugar supplies and that, for the last three months of 1948, the percentage dropped to 56 per cent.; and whether he will cause an early review to be made as to how the sugar requirements of the brewing trade can be better met;

(2) whether he is aware that the reduced sugar allocation to brewers involves the use by them of a larger amount of barley for brewing than would otherwise be necessary; and whether, in view of the present adequacy of sugar supplies and the need for using as much barley as possible to improve the supply of animal feedingstuffs, he will review at an early date the present position with regard to brewers' sugar supplies.


asked the Minister of Food whether he will extend to the brewing industry an increase in the sugar allocation proportionate to that given to other industries.

The Brewing Industry at the moment get approximately 66 per cent. of their pre-war usage of sugar and glucose. We cannot allow them more at present because of the dollar difficulty.

As the latest figures are, in fact, only 56 per cent. of the pre-war usage and as this cut involves a greater use of barley, will the Minister reconsider the matter so that the barley can be reduced and the more plentiful sugar increased?

I do not know where the hon. Gentleman gets his figures. I cannot trace them anywhere, and if he will let me know where he gets them I shall be obliged. As to the second part of the supplementary question, the hon. Gentleman must remember that barley and sugar are both short.

Is there any point in taking a penny off a pint of beer if the brewers cannot get the ingredients to make it?

Is not our main concern to see that the sugar goes into the homes of the people rather than in the direction suggested in the Question?

If I might answer the first supplementary question, the brewers are receiving 38 per cent. of the barley produced in 1948.

Prices And Stocks (Publication)

36 and 37.

asked the Minister of Food (1) what considerations are taken into account by him, and upon what principles he acts, before deciding whether or not it is in the public interest to disclose the price paid for any particular commodity in which his Department is interested;

(2) what considerations are taken into account by him, and upon what principles he acts, before deciding whether or not it is in the public interest to disclose the stocks of any particular commodity held by or under the authority of his Department.

The considerations are those which any prudent trader would take into account or act on in similar circumstances. The Ministry's policy has normally been not to publish particulars of stocks held or the prices paid for supplies. The grounds for the policy are that publication of such data would prejudice the Ministry's trading operations.

Is the right hon. Lady aware that the general belief is that these figures are only disclosed when favourable to the Government and not disclosed when unfavourable? When the right hon. Lady mentions future trading arrangements, does she mean that her Department is proposing to buy further supplies of Algerian wine?

Is not the Minister aware that eventually we find out what these prices are, since usually they are published abroad and drift back to us in this country? Why should she not tell us sooner?

The hon. Gentleman has been asking questions this afternoon about other commodities. Surely, as a business man, he must appreciate the position at this moment, when we are negotiating with the Argentine for meat, animal feedingstuffs and linseed oil. Surely it would be imprudent to disclose now what our stocks are and what are the prices which we have paid?

The right hon. Lady specifically referred to the consideration of future purchases. As she has now said that it is not her intention to purchase any more Algerian wine, will she say why the price and the stocks have not been disclosed?

When I said we are not going to purchase any more Algerian wine, I was talking about our short-term programme.

Disabled Ship (Chartered Tug)


asked the Minister of Transport why a British-owned tug which was available was not used to tow the "Ramara" which was disabled at Gibraltar to a West Italian port; and, in view of the necessity of saving foreign currency, if he will in future use British tugs when available.

British tug owners were given the opportunity to tender for this tow, but their lowest quotation was substantially higher than that accepted by the managers of the vessel. The accepted tender came from a Dutch company and there were therefore no currency grounds for departing from normal commercial practice and the policy of non-discrimination in these matters.

Is it the policy of the Minister of Transport when chartering tugs, even if he has to pay a bit more in sterling, not to charter them if dollars are involved?

Defence Talks


asked the Prime Minister on what date he expects to have a confidential talk with the Leader of the Opposition on matters of defence.

This is a matter which will be decided by the right hon. Gentleman and myself.

In view of the mischievous and irresponsible statements that have recently been made in the United States by the Leader of the Opposition, statements which are aimed to lead to war, would the Prime Minister—

The hon. Member must not make these imputations and insinuations. He knows it is quite wrong to do so.

Would the Prime Minister therefore reconsider his previous decision to meet the right hon. Member in order that he should not make more mischief?

Is it not the recognised custom for historic talks to be broadcast? Can these not be on the television programme?

The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) is quite mistaken. If he had had a little more experience he would know that these conversations are never broadcast.

Can my right hon. Friend say whether the hon. Member for Mile End (Mr. Piratin) has been appointed P.P.S. to the Leader of the Opposition?


Cattle Transport


asked the Minister of Agriculture whether he will arrange that horned and hornless cattle are not transported from farm to slaughterhouse in the same truck or van.

The separation of horned and hornless cattle would not prevent the horned cattle injuring each other. I will, however, look into the matter and consider whether it is possible to secure the desired object in some other way.

While thanking the right hon. Gentleman for that sympathetic reply, may I ask whether he will bear in mind that, apart altogether from the pain involved in these injuries, there is serious deterioration caused to stock?

The hon. Gentleman's suggestion would not prevent one horned animal injuring another horned animal even if the hornless cattle were separately transported?


asked the Minister of Agriculture whether he will make a regulation forbidding the transport of young calves to central slaughterhouses unless conditions in respect of food and space during the journey are satisfactory.

It is an offence under the Transit of Animals Orders of 1927 and 1931 to overcrowd any railway or road vehicle to such an extent as to cause injury or unnecessary suffering to the animals carried therein. It would hardly be practicable to make the feeding of young calves in transit a statutory obligation but I will consult with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Food as to whether it would be possible to place some limitation on the distance calves are sent from collecting centres to slaughterhouses.


asked the Minister of Agriculture if he will introduce legislation making it imperative that cattle intended for slaughter shall have their horns treated by caustic to prevent their growth while still newly-born calves.

No, Sir. Although I agree that dis-horning diminishes the risk of injury to cattle when in yards or in transit, I do not consider is advisable to introduce legislation making it compulsory.

Does not the right hon. Gentleman realise that if he were to accept the suggestion in this Question, it would give him an answer to my suggestion in Question 47?

Fruit Census


asked the Minister of Agriculture if he will consider holding a fruit census this year rather than in 1950.

I regret that it will not be possible to undertake a comprehensive fruit census until March, 1951, at the earliest. Returns of acreages under fruit are collected annually and other more urgent inquiries before that date will fully absorb the resources of my statistical department.

Egg Prices


asked the Minister of Agriculture whether he will confer with the Minister of Food with a view to ensuring that egg producers in the United Kingdom receive an average overall return for eggs of 4s. 6d. per dozen throughout the year, with special regard to the increased production costs incurred as a result of the increase in the price of feedingstuffs.

When the price of eggs for the year 1949–50 was fixed full account was taken of all relevant factors, including the recent increases in the price of feedingstuffs.

Does not the Minister realise the simple fact that there is widespread discontent among poultry keepers about the price of feedingstuffs?

I was speaking to about 500 farmers on Saturday afternoon, and during one and a half hours of questions nobody talked about eggs.

Horticultural Cropping Orders


asked the Minister of Agriculture if he is now in a position to revoke the Horticultural (Cropping) Orders, 1941, No. 953, 1941, No. 1761 and 1942, No. 1347, in view of the changed circumstances for the better.

The orders to which my hon. Friend refers have been revoked. I assume he has in mind the arrangements under which commercial growers who wish to be assured of fuel supplies are required to sign an undertaking to devote a proportion of their glasshouse space to food crops. These arrangements are at present under review in consultation with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Fuel and Power and I hope to be able to make an announcement on the subject shortly.

When will my right hon. Friend be in a position to give some good news to the horticultural growers?

I am afraid that I could not say more at present than is in the latter part of my answer.

Marginal Lands


asked the Minister of Agriculture if he has consulted the agricultural executive committees of the counties which have considerable acreages of marginal land; and when he will make known proposals to assist farmers to reclaim such land for full food production.

Close touch is maintained between myself and the county agricultural executive committees, including those to which the hon. Member refers. The efficient use of all agricultural land is a responsibility of my Department which receives unremitting attention, and a variety of expedients have been adopted to increase the output from marginal lands.

Bearing in mind what was said from both sides of the Committee during the meat Debate last week, will the Minister press on with reclaiming marginal land for food production, and let us have some news immediately after Easter of what he intends to do?

As the hon. Member is aware, we already have important schemes, in the hill farming scheme, the hill sheep and hill cattle subsidy schemes, the marginal production scheme which was announced a few weeks ago, the goods and services scheme and various other schemes, all leading to the same results.

Is the Minister really content with the progress in dealing with marginal land?

Can my right hon. Friend tell us how many acres are covered by the schemes now operating?




asked the Minister of Transport if he will continue the temporary order, permitting tractors with narrow rim front steering wheels to use the roads.

Yes, Sir. My right hon. Friend will continue the present relaxation until 31st December, 1949, but, as at present advised, does not propose to extend it further.

Pedestrian Crossings


asked the Minister of Transport if he will make a statement on the results of the Pedestrian Crossing Week.

Preliminary reports on the results of the Pedestrian Crossing Week show that the effort to secure greater use of the crossings gained general public approval. Propaganda was intensive and widespread, and took many novel forms. More than 900 local authorities took part and a great deal of work has been undertaken by the police. Road safety meetings and displays aroused considerable local interest and were well attended. There has been a noticeable increase in the use of the crossing places by pedestrians and motorists have cooperated in a marked degree. It is hardly to be expected that the habits of years can be changed by a seven days' campaign, and to consolidate the results I ask for the continued co-operation of all road users. I am grateful for the support that came from many organised influential bodies of opinion and for considerable publicity by the Press and the B.B.C. I am certain that the results of the week have been well worth the efforts put in by many voluntary workers.

Is the hon. Gentleman satisfied that the conclusions he has drawn from this have not been caused by so many pedestrians crossing over to the other side in the local elections?

Can the hon. Gentleman say whether one of the matters likely to he discussed as a result of the Pedestrian Crossing Week is an increase in the number of pedestrian crossings? In some areas they were found to be insufficient.

The Committee on Road Safety has recommended to the Minister that existing pedestrian crossings shall be reviewed to see if they are sited in the right places.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that I have observed many lone women crossing roads at any old place other than the recognised crossings? Will he do something to stop this?

That is why it is so very important that we should maintain this campaign.

Can my hon. Friend give us some clarification on the question of whether motor-cars or pedestrians take precedence at pedestrian crossings?

New regulations will be laid before the House by my right hon. Friend very shortly.

Has my hon. Friend in mind any organised follow-up of this week's effort, in order to prevent any backsliding?

Yes, Sir. There will be continuing propaganda conducted by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents.

Can the hon. Gentleman say why the Pedestrian Crossing Week was held before the regulations clarifying the position about traffic lights were published? Is he aware that a great deal of the valuable propaganda and educational work of this week has been lost because there is still very great confusion where pedestrian crossings coincide with traffic lights?

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that the observations which have been made during this week will enable us to make the regulations more perfect when they are issued.

Has my hon. Friend any figures showing whether during this week there was any diminution in the number of accidents occurring on pedestrian crossings compared with recent weeks?

It may be that if we concentrate more pedestrians on crossings, more pedestrians will be injured at those points but fewer on other parts of the roads.

Questions To Ministers

May I ask the acting Leader of the House whether he has any statement to make about the order of Questions?

The House will recall that on 23rd February a request was made that Foreign Office Questions should be given a fixed position to ensure that some of them are reached every week. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House then agreed to see what could be done.

The matter has been discussed through the usual channels and with the authorities of the House. As a result of this, a suggested re-arrangement has been made which will, I hope, meet the difficulty over Foreign Office Questions and still maintain the balance which we have tried to keep in the past.

The principal changes mean that Foreign Office Questions will be fixed after the Prime Minister's group on Monday, in place of Ministry of Agriculture Questions which will be moved to a similar fixed position on Thursday. Ministry of Fuel and Power Questions will move from Thursday to Monday to redress the balance. Foreign Office Questions will continue to be taken in rotation with other Departments on Wednesday.

I suggest that it would be convenient for the revised order of Questions to operate immediately after the Easter Recess and a printed list will be made available to hon. Members to-morrow. Hon. Members who have already handed in Oral Questions for answer after the Recess may wish to take steps to alter the dates of their Questions to correspond to the new arrangements.

I commend these proposals to the House as a reasonable way of meeting the desires that have been expressed and I hope they will be given a trial.

Business Of The House

May I ask a further Question on Business—whether it is the Government's intention to take the Worcester Gas Order tomorrow, Tuesday, evening?

It is proposed to move it tomorrow, Tuesday, evening, after the Debate on the Budget Resolutions and the economic situation.

Orders Of The Day

Ways And Means

Considered in Committee [ Progress, 7th April].

[Major MILNER in the Chair]

Question again proposed,

Amendment Of Law

"That it is expedient to amend the law with respect to the National Debt and the public revenue (other than purchase tax), and to make further provision in connection with finance."

Budget Proposals And Economic Situation

3.16 p.m.

I welcome the stark realism of the approach in the Chancellor's Budget speech to the economic and financial problems by which this country is confronted at the present time. As I listened to him last Wednesday I thought I discerned from time to time the echo, attenuated somewhat by the effluxion of time, of the things I myself have been saying in this House during the past three years. I am thinking, of course, of his reference to the necessity for hard work and disciplined action, to our position in regard to the development of the social services and, I need hardly add, the food subsidies.

Nevertheless, I should like to make it clear that this is not in all respects the Budget that I myself would have introduced had I been in the Chancellor's position. I think I should have left Death Duties severely alone after what was done in a previous Budget. I think I should have made, or tried to make, some substantial reduction in Purchase Tax, reflecting that reduction in action with regard to the food subsidies. I should certainly have given long and earnest consideration to the possibility of extending relief for earned income into the Surtax range, but I think I should have come to the conclusion that it would not be right to do that on this occasion. I welcome the repeal of the tax on bonus issues, a tax for which I thought there was never any adequate justification. I welcome the reduction of the Beer Duty and various miscellaneous reductions defended by the Chancellor on the score of simplification, but I think that in matters of taxation simplification can be carried too far because our tax structure must inevitably reflect in a considerable degree the complexities of our social and economic system.

I do not think that the principle of simplification should have been extended as proposed by the Chancellor into the sphere of Death Duties, already very high indeed. I think it was a mistake to get rid of the differentiation in favour of dispositions to near relatives. The maintenance of the structure of the family is something to which we should pay regard. In particular, in the case of businesses passing from father to son, the incidence of the Death Duties was already heavy and likely to produce embarrassing consequences not in the national interest. If there was in the view of the Chancellor still a margin of taxable capacity in the field of Death Duties, that margin should on grounds of principle have been preserved.

As regards the proposed increase in telephone charges, it was not clear to me from the Chancellor's lucid and obviously carefully considered speech, whether he regarded the increase he now proposes as in the nature of a tax or merely a reflection of increased costs. If he regards it as a tax, I think his proposal was mistaken. A tax on any instrument of progress deserves to be classed with the old hearth and window taxes which represented a primitive stage in our economy. I was myself once in the position of having to propose a tax on electricity. It was necessary to meet a serious financial situation in Bengal. I was not at all proud of having to propose that tax. The necessity for it was unfortunate, and the same considerations apply to the proposals of the Chancellor with regard to telephones.

I welcome wholeheartedly the step that the Chancellor has found it possible to take in developing a proposal that I made myself four years ago for giving some relief to industry in building up capital. The increase of the initial allowance from 20 per cent. to 40 per cent. is fully justified in present circumstances. A logical case could have been made out for going much further. The difficulty that I have always seen was in doing anything of that kind without unfair discrimination between one form of capital and another, and I have never been able to see a satisfactory method by which industrialists could be permitted to replace their plant and equipment at the much higher level of cost now prevalent out of untaxed income without introducing the unfair discrimination between one form of capital and another to which I have referred.

I am glad, however, that the Chancellor has seen fit to initiate an inquiry into the question of the incidence of direct taxation on the resources of industrial firms. I hope that in the reference to the proposed committee of inquiry he will see that no undue limitation is placed upon those to whom the inquiry is to be entrusted. In that connection I would refer in passing to what I think is a mistaken trend in revenue administration. Last year the Chancellor, confronted by what were admittedly grave abuses that had grown up, declared his intention of seeing that the benefits brought within the scope of taxation in the case of directors and high officials of industrial firms were extended to cover "disbursements for the benefit" of directors and others. As I have said, there were undoubtedly grave abuses that needed to be checked, but I am inclined to think that the Revenue authorities are now going too far. I have in the Port of London Authority a rather special problem with which I do not intend to trouble the Committee. I have put the arguments to the Revenue authorities, and I understand that they have been or are being passed to the Chancellor, and I hope he will consider them.

However, I want to say a word on the general question. I am referring in particular to such benefits as luncheons, and so on, that are provided in canteens or otherwise. The old rule, based on sound practical considerations, was that the Revenue authorities took no account of such benefits in kind, and the justification for that rule was that the practical difficulties of evaluating in a vast range of differing circumstances the precise amount at which such benefits were to be assessed, made the task simply not worth while. That experience will be repeated in the future if the practice of the authorities continues on what seem to be the present lines. It is not possible to make a satisfactory job of such an evaluation. If benefits are provided in return for a payment, how can the Revenue authorities make themselves responsible for determining whether the payment made is, in all the circumstances, reasonable or not? There is no clear or certain guide. The cost to the provider is obviously not a basis. The proper basis, I am sure the Chancellor would agree, is the value to the recipient, but how can that be arrived at?

My own view would be that a much simpler device should be adopted than that which is now apparently being applied, namely, that one should leave out of consideration altogether any provision made in an industrial canteen, or under some arrangement of an equivalent character, because it is very much in the interests of the efficiency of industry that the taking of meals close to the place of work should be given every possible encouragement. At the present time the inquisitorial processes that are likely to be involved can only cause a feeling of exasperation, can only tend to create a gulf between the honest taxpayer and the Revenue authorities, and it is of vital importance in the administration of a complicated tax like the Income Tax that the goodwill of respectable taxpayers should be secured by the Revenue authorities. That should be constantly kept in view.

In that connection I would ask the Chancellor whether he could give any indication of the condition of the work in the Inland Revenue Department? Is it or is it not the case that many assessments involving large sums are left unsettled because the inspectors are too heavily burdened with detail to get down to these matters? I think it quite likely. I do not speak from exact knowledge because, for obvious reasons, I do not attempt to discuss these matters with my former colleagues in the Inland Revenue. However, I cannot help thinking that there may be considerable arrears involving large sums of money. I ask the Chancellor to believe that I speak with every desire to see abuses checked wherever there are abuses. I am very much concerned about the efficiency of that splendid Department the Board of Inland Revenue, to which I went, I recall, as chairman as long as 30 years ago. That is all that I have to say on the Budget itself.

There are various matters of detail into which I do not think it necessary to enter, but I should like, in the very short period for which I shall detain the Committee, to refer to the general economic situation, to which the Chancellor rightly devoted so large a part of his speech. I shall not go into detail, however, because I want to leave adequate scope to my right hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton), who will be speaking in the Debate tomorrow. We are all agreed, I think, that in these days it is necessary to look at the Budget, not in isolation, as used to be our happy position, but in its setting in the general economy of the country. I think we are also agreed that it is necessary to look at the Budget, not in respect of one year alone, as used to be the case, but to go beyond the limits of a single year. It is here that I have my main criticism to offer of the Chancellor's presentation of his case.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman rightly emphasised in his speech that, great though the progress recorded in the economic White Paper has been, we still have a very long way to go before our finance and our economy can be considered to be in a satisfactory position. But if we look beyond the limits of this financial year, certainly no very attractive prospect is held out to our taxpayers and citizens. What is the prospect as outlined by the Chancellor? Hard work, certainly; apparently, no hope of substantial tax relief in the foreseeable future, because it would seem that all potential relief must be hypothecated to sustain the developing social services. Surely, that is much too gloomy a picture. Relief from the present crippling tax burden is essential, in my view and in the view of many others, to maintain the productivity of our industry at whatever level we may succeed in reaching during the next year or two. It is, I submit, equally necessary to restore a margin of taxable capacity. I believe we are the only country in the world lacking at the present time any such margin, a margin which is essential, not only to national and international credit, but also to national security.

Let us look again at the picture presented by the economic White Paper. The Chancellor very rightly stresses the progress—the remarkable progress—that has been made in 1948 as compared with 1947, although there were, as has been pointed out, exceptional features in 1947. That should be a source, not only of satisfaction, but of encouragement for the future. We have a long way to go, and the outlook may well be grim if we are content merely to go on as we have been going. There are too many people in this country still sunning themselves in the fool's paradise into which they were led in the first flush of enthusiasm at the advent to power of a Socialist Government. The Chancellor used, in that connection, some significant words, words that were obviously very carefully chosen, and I shall, therefore, quote them. He said this:
"We must…moderate the speed of our advance in the extended application of the existing Social Services to our progressive ability to pay for them by an increase in our national income."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th April, 1949; Vol. 463, c. 2092.]
How much better it would have been if that lesson had been driven home two and a half or three years ago. I said much the same thing repeatedly, and no notice was taken. [An HON. MEMBER: "Too hasty."] I said, "Too hasty"—out of keeping with the development of our economy, out of keeping with our progressive ability to pay for what we were promised. Not only was no notice taken, but a great structure of misrepresentation was based on what I had to say. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why not repeat it?"] I am not going to trouble the Committee, but I have here what I said, for example, in August, 1947. I have also the comment—the very unfair comment—in a document entitled, "The A B C of the Crisis, price 2d." Compare what is in that with what, in fact, I said.

Would the right hon. Gentleman allow me? I intervene only because of the charge of misrepresentation. I thought I heard the right hon. Gentleman say only a minute ago that what the Chancellor of the Exchequer said last week he said three years ago. Are we to infer from that that if the right hon. Gentleman had been listened to, or if he had been Chancellor, three years ago, the rate of advance in social services would have been slower; and is not that the misrepresentation of which he complains?

No. The misrepresentation is not encompassed within a single sentence. It is a colossal edifice of misrepresentations, and the inference is not what the hon. Gentleman draws. The inference is this: that if what I said two or three years ago had been said by the party opposite and rubbed in, then our economy would have been in a very much better position today to sustain the burden.

We should not have allowed things to get completely out of hand. [Interruption.] I can understand hon. Gentlemen opposite feeling a little uncomfortable. I do not want to rub it in.

The right hon. Gentleman talks of misrepresentations, then evades the point.

I do not evade it. I say, compare what I said in 1947 with what is in that leaflet.

To come to the question of social services. Do not let us exaggerate. May I remind the Committee, and the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) in particular, what I myself said about the social services? I was asked on one occasion when I was Chancellor of the Exchequer, shortly before I ceased to be Chancellor, whether I was satisfied that we could afford the social services. I said that I had come to the conclusion that we could not afford not to have them. Let us look at the picture in relation to what has been said by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, with which I agree. Much of the heavy expenditure on social services comes back in one form or another very quickly in direct and indirect taxation. That has to be set against the burden. On a long view the improved standard of health and education resulting from the development of the social services ought to increase enormously our productive efficiency as a community.

There is so far very little sign of it. If that were not true, the policy of social security, demanded, as the Chancellor said, by all parties—he said "by all parties"—would stand condemned as economically unsound.

You went ahead too fast and, instead of developing the social services and building up the economy of the country stage by stage, you concentrated everything on measures of heavily increased expenditure without attending to the pre-requisite of a sound economy. Moreover, in addition to the benefits we may expect to get from improved development of the social services over a period of time, there is all the vast expenditure which is to be incurred, that has been incurred and is now being incurred on research and re-equipment in industry. There are vast sums being spent year by year on capital development in industry although, personally, I am rather inclined to doubt whether the amount which goes into genuine development is quite as high, or nearly as high, as the economic White Paper would seem to suggest. So much is going in mere replacement at an increased level of cost, so much going to finance stocks which have to be held on a high level, stocks the increased value of which is reckoned as profit for the purposes of taxation, which in itself is a very serious matter. However that may be, the hon. Member asks if we are not seeing the benefit already. I do not know whether we can see it as yet. If one takes such an industry as coal, has re-organisation, has the vast expenditure on mechanisation as yet produced anything but pitifully inadequate results?

I do not pretend to be an expert on coal, but I thought it was agreed that the British coalminer today was producing 100 per cent. per man-shift production as compared with production before the war and that he was the only miner in the world who was doing so.

My point is that 100 per cent. is nothing like sufficient. It is not 100 per cent. increase, but 100 per cent. of the old pre-war level. Does that reflect improved service? Does that reflect the natural result of the enormous expenditure on development, mechanisation and organisation?

The right hon. Gentleman is very courteous indeed in giving way again. If we have an overall picture in which there is no miner in the world who is producing 100 per cent. of what he produced in 1938 per man-shift, and if into that picture one inserts the picture of the British miner, who alone in the world is doing that, does not that show that there has been a greater improvement here than anywhere else in the world?

I am told that the pre-war production in coal was 300 tons per man year and that now it is 270 tons. I mentioned coal by way of illustration, but we find the same thing elsewhere. If hon. Members are interested, they might inform themselves as to the results of an experiment, the first of its kind, in bringing into this country a ship laden with sugar in bulk to be handled mechanically. Hon. Members who look into that will see the kind of thing I have in mind. We must get rid of that kind of obstruction to improved methods of handling cargoes and carrying out industrial processes.

However, I have made the point I sought to make and I do not wish to detain the Committee unduly because I think the best contribution I can make—and I am not likely to have many further opportunities of contributing to Debates of this kind—is to bring out a few salient points. That is all I have tried to do and all I intend to do. I wish to declare however here and now my belief that if our affairs are wisely directed by the Government and by the community—and this is not only a matter for Governments, the community as a whole comes in—if the Government give the guidance which so far has been so sadly lacking and provide the framework within which the high qualities which our people undoubtedly possess can display themselves to advantage, we shall triumph over all our difficulties and emerge strong, prosperous and contented at no very distant date.

3.46 p.m.

Before coming to the Chancellor's Budget statement, it is only right that I should endeavour to follow the speech of the right hon. Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Anderson). The House always listens with very great respect to the right hon. Gentleman who, not only has been Chancellor of the Exchequer, but has also occupied the responsible post of head of the Inland Revenue. I listened today to the alternative which the right hon. Gentleman, with experience in both capacities, would suggest to the statement made by the Chancellor, but, frankly, I was disappointed.

One realises that on these occasions one deals rather cursorily with the statement and reserves the main points for the Finance Bill. But so far as I could gather, the first thing the right hon. Gentleman regretted was tampering with the Death Duties. I cannot possibly share the mourning of the right hon. Gentleman with regard to Death Duties. There is only one suggestion I would make to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I quite agree that the time had come to abolish this distinction in Legacy Duty, Succession Duty, and Estate Duty. But I was hoping that he would say he would abolish Estate Duty and Succession Duty and make it all a Legacy Duty. This was the first effort at getting a redistribution of income and I should have thought that having a graded amount according to the amount of the legacy, would have led to a better distribution than having one duty on the whole estate, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman proposes. However, that is a matter we can discuss later.

I was rather surprised to find the right hon. Gentleman welcoming—it may be due to his new and present associates—the lessening by one penny a pint of the duty on beer. I should have thought that with his experience he would have said, "I would prefer to maintain the duty on beer, but I would lower the duties which fall on the family in regard to matters which are more necessitous than beer." But, sitting as he does on the Conservative Front Bench, I am not a bit surprised that he has taken this line. When he came to Income Tax and Supertax—

I am very interested in what the right hon. and learned Gentleman is saying. What duties has he in mind?

I shall come to that. I have only just started my speech. I do not know how long the hon. and learned Member has been present, but, if he is objecting to the way I am trying to deal with the right hon. Gentleman, he will have opportunities later, I am sure. Turning to Income Tax and Super Tax all that the right hon. Gentleman could say was that he would give long and very serious consideration to the matter, but apparently, after having given that long and serious consideration, he would not do anything more in regard to it than the present Chancellor has done.

I did agree with the right hon. Gentleman's strictures upon what the Chancellor is proposing in regard to telephone charges. That is a retrograde step which I hope the Chancellor will reconsider either before he introduces the Finance Bill or during our consideration of that Bill. This increase will fall upon a method of communication which has become essential today not only for business but also in a part of the country that will be taxed most heavily, namely the rural areas. However, that is a matter with which we can deal much more fully when we consider the Finance Bill.

I wish again to congratulate the Chancellor on his Budget speech, which I do warmly and sincerely. It was indeed a masterly statement, quite outstanding even among the great speeches which we have learned to expect and have heard him deliver in this House. It was a clear presentation of the economic position of the country. I am glad that the Chancellor has followed the precedent which he established last year. The right hon. Member for the Scottish Universities had the opportunity when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer but he did not take that opportunity. I think that from now on that precedent must be followed by every Chancellor of the Exchequer. I mean that in presenting his Budget he does not limit himself as of old to the narrow question of the ways and means of providing the money required to meet the supplies voted by this House but rather reviews the economic position of the country as a whole and presents his Budget in the setting of the national economic position. That gives me particular pleasure because I was advocating it about nine years ago. It ought to have been done certainly during 1945–46. It has become absolutely necessary today when the Government of the day are playing such an important port not only in the affairs of the nation as a whole but in the conduct of everyday business and even in the affairs of the household.

Like the right hon. Gentleman, I congratulate the Chancellor upon a number of his warnings and, if I may so call them, copy-book axioms. I would refer now to only one of them—that we have to face our economic and financial problems with realism, and must not allow ourselves to be carried away by the quite understandable desire to court electoral popularity. That is an axiom which all of us, without exception, on all sides of the House might take to heart. How right the Chancellor was in calling attention to the undoubted fact—and I shall have to refer to this matter later—that this House has not been exercising to the proper degree its traditional role of carefully scrutinising and checking expenditure, and so defending the taxpayer against, as he so rightly described it, the rapacity of the Executive.

We have become much too complaisant. Figures have reached such astronomical heights that tens of millions and hundreds of millions convey too little to us, and we vote away the taxpayers' money almost complacently. It is the duty of the House, and indeed of every individual Member, not only to scrutinise these accounts and this expenditure, but also to see that the taxpayer is getting real value for the money which we vote.

Turning to the economic position as a whole, we can once again claim that the country has shown amazing resilience, great adaptability, good management and—again I rather differ from the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion—tremendous work and great energy. Not only has it met the enormous calls upon it in importing the vast imports which are required in increasing amounts year by year as the population is growing and the standard of life throughout has to be maintained and even improved—vast and increasing quantities of food and raw materials; it has nearly managed to pay for them by its own exports. It is succeeding not only in this way, but at the same time it has clamped down upon the dangerous pressure of inflation. It has also succeeded in redeeming the National Debt to an extent never before known. At the same time, we have been able to finance social benefits which in themselves amount to far and away more than the total Budget of a few years before the last war. That is a remarkable achievement.

A position has therefore been gained which is fairly satisfactory but still precarious. It has been gained as the result of immense, continuous and sustained effort. The question now is, and I think this is the one which the Chancellor was really putting: Can we maintain that position which has been so hardly won? The undoubted answer is that we can; what is more we should, and further, we must. Otherwise we shall deserve the harshest censure not only of this generation but of the generations which come after us.

I see no reason whatever for the almost impenetrable gloom which seems to surround the hon. Member for Chippenham (Mr. Eccles). Not much is to be gained by comparing the present Budget, still less the present economic position of the country, with the past, when certain canons of taxation could be laid down as guides to Chancellors of the Exchequer. In the old days supplies were voted in the House in the main to meet the expenditure of the Armed Forces and the ordinary administration. Prior to 1909 little attempt was made—with the exception of the Death Duties introduced in 1894 by Sir William Harcourt—to redistribute income. True, Income Tax was not levied on the lower income grades, but throughout that period they were called upon to make quite a heavy contribution in indirect taxation.

It was the Budget of 1909 which really marked the turning-point, and the Conservatives of that time showed remarkable prescience in realising that that was the danger point. They put up every objection they possibly could to that Budget in this House, and even used the other place in order to create a veto. That Budget really began the new era of the redistribution of wealth, taking money out of the pockets of some who could afford it and making it available to those who had not had it. That process has since then been continued by every Government of every party. That process has come to stay, and there is no going back on it. There can and must be, however, as the Chancellor has said, a limit to what can be done in this respect. Even the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Scottish Universities seems to agree upon that.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman has said that this process has come to stay. "Process" means something which is continuing. Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman mean by his argument that it is to continue or that it has to come to an end?

It has come to stay in this respect, that the Budget will now always be used, as a matter of principle, for the redistribution of income. That will not stop. What can stop is the extent to which it can be used, and in support of what the Chancellor has in mind I would quote from him:

"…the redistribution of income today which is entailed in the payment of social services, already falls to a considerable extent upon those who are the recipients of those services."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th April, 1949; Vol. 463, c. 2091.]
To that extent, the process is not a true redistribution of income among the people. It is merely taking money out of an individual's pocket and giving part of it back to the same individual in another form.

I do not see that the hon. and gallant Gentleman shows much sign of pauperisation at the present moment.

I am much obliged to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his personal remark to me. He suggested that because these people are receiving those benefits now, and have to pay for them, the benefits should be rescinded. I say it is pauperising the community of this country.

The hon. and gallant Member was not listening to me. What I was suggesting was that if one is receiving back part of the money taken away from one in another form, that is not true redistribution of income. It really means that the Government have taken upon themselves the position of knowing better than the individual how the money should be spent. It is this process which today partly accounts for the fact that the total taxation, national and local, is now more than 40 per cent. of the national income. That is undoubtedly a very high ratio. In my opinion it is too high, and ought to be reduced. I gather that is also the view of the Chancellor, otherwise he would not have put so much emphasis on the need for increased production, increased national wealth and increased national income, so that if this increase in expenditure remains the same then the ratio is reduced. That, of course, is a truism, but I also understand that is what the Chancellor is aiming at. He is quite right in saying that this ratio can only be reduced in one of two ways, either by reducing the expenditure or by increasing the national income.

I listened carefully to the criticisms of the right hon. Member for the Scottish Universities, but I do not gather yet whether he is prepared to make substantial cuts in the high amounts on the expenditure side today. That was what was being put to him by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) and I gather that we did not get a definite answer.

Oh, yes, we did. I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. In the end he gave me—under some pressure I admit—a very clear answer. He said that in social services the Government had gone ahead too far, which, of course, is an admission that he would have gone slower.

May I take the bigger items one by one? The first big item is the National Debt. I do not suppose that there is anyone, certainly not the right hon. Gentleman, who would make a cut or refuse to pay interest on the National Debt. That is a matter which can be dealt with only over a series of years, and dealt with gradually. Another big item is the money, amounting to over £700 million, for defence. Would the right hon. Gentleman make any cut in that? I should have thought that at a time like this, when our very liberties are being threatened, we have, whether we like it or not, to maintain our position with regard to defence. The only point I would make is that the money should be spent on the best methods to get the most efficient defences, not only for our own part, but for the part we have to play with the other free nations.

I come now to the national services such as housing and education. I gather that the right hon. Gentleman said that the whole purpose of these is that with better education, better health and conditions everywhere, in course of time—and that not a very long time—we ought to have better production and a further increase in the national wealth and income. Would the right hon. Gentleman now say that he would cut any one of those at the present moment? As the Chancellor and every hon. Member of this Committee knows, there are certain people with low incomes who are finding it very difficult to make both ends meet; especially the pensioners, whether they be war pensioners, disability pensioners or old age pensioners. Instead of a cut in that expenditure there is a general demand that it should be increased, and so I cannot see that it can be lowered in any way. I am not going through all the items; it would be wrong to do so. Those are the main items. I shall come to the food subsidies.

Before I deal with them I wish to draw the attention of the Chancellor to one statement which he made. He said:
"There are, of course, economies that we can make, and are making, in our administration…But these economies are, in the main, in terms of fractions of a million, whereas the new expenditure…as regards social services increases by tens of millions."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th April, 1949; Vol. 463, c. 2091.]
Of course, the social services increase by tens of millions, but I do not believe that economies in administration will amount only to fractions of millions. Here again, I would remind the Committee, is the very matter to which the Chancellor referred earlier, and to which I referred earlier, the duty of hon. Members of this House. I believe that many millions, and not fractions, can be saved by better administration. It is the duty of hon. Members of this House to see that those economies are made effective. That is why we were asking in 1945 and again in 1946 for the appointment of a committee of hon. Members of this House to deal with national expenditure.

The Public Accounts Committee deals with a matter something like two years or at least 12 months after the money has been spent. There should be, as there was during the war, although that was not wholly effective—a committee of hon. Members of this House to go into these matters with care. It is our duty as the Chancellor rightly said, to protect the taxpayer, and I am quite certain that there is not one of us in this House who has not come across, not one, but many instances from time to time of sheer waste which would not be tolerated in any private business, or which, if tolerated, would result in the bankruptcy of any private individual.

Would the right hon. and learned Gentleman say in what way his proposal differs from the existing Estimates Committee?

Certainly, Sir. The Estimates Committee merely consider the amount it is proposed that shall be spent, that the Department is asking for—

The old Estimates Committee was exactly what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said, practically a farce. But the new Estimates Committee has actually taken over the duties of a national committee on public expenditure. One melancholy thing—looked at from the point of view of saving—is that the extravagance we do find is extraordinarily small. As an old member of the Public Accounts Committee, I am not very hopeful that a very great saving will come from the most minute examination.

That is where I differ from the hon. Member. I am obliged for his correction with regard to the Estimates Committee. I agree with him that the old one was a complete farce and hopeless, and that is why we reported against it when we were sitting on the Select Committee. But there was a Public Accounts Committee sitting during the war. It was nothing like so effective as the committee appointed by this House to inquire into expenditure and the way in which things were being conducted. But I am quite sure that the mere creation of such a committee would lead at once to the tightening up of methods of administration, and might lead to very considerable saving.

I come to the question of food subsidies. I say at once that I dislike sub- sidies as such. Too often they are a premium upon inefficiency, and give unnecessary extra money and profits to the efficient. Food subsidies were introduced during the war as a sort of palliative, temporary and immediate, for dealing with the rapidly rising costs of living, particularly of food. Subsidies were introduced in the case of food because at that time we were a beleaguered nation. Food had to be purchased from abroad for three-fifths of the population and it was being done through a Government Department.

It was felt that an easy way of dealing with the matter was to allow subsidies to maintain the prices at a lower figure than the cost to the Government and thereby induce the wage-earner not to ask for increased wages. That was never a sound remedy. I remind hon. Members who are objecting to this method being tampered with, that it was not a method of redistributing wealth in the properly understood meaning of that term. Those who do not require it, benefit from this. Not only do the poor and the wage-earners benefit, but so also do the wealthy and the salaried. They also benefit from cheaper food.

When the subsidies were first introduced, it was at a figure of £65 million. That went up in 1945–46 to £265 million. Now, if the Chancellor had not called a halt, it would have gone up to £568 million. As he says, if food prices continue to go up, we might be reduced to the dreadful position that we shall have to stop importing because we cannot afford to pay for the various commodities. That is the position. But once subsidies are granted, it would be absolutely wrong to do away with them overnight. One can grant subsidies overnight, but one cannot take them away overnight without causing immense and even agonising distress.

I should like to discuss the question of who pays for these subsidies. One of the mistakes made by the Treasury is to look upon the individual taxpayer as the unit. The truth is that the family is the unit. If the Treasury looked at the matter in that way we should get a truer picture of what is happening. The family is being taxed today to provide the subsidies. The Duty upon tobacco amounted to more than £568 million. My recollection is that tobacco brought in £620 million and beer brought in £250 million. What does that really mean? It means that out of his wages a wage earner, who is modest in his requirements of tobacco and beer, is giving less to his wife by the amount of the duties for her to do her budgeting for her household. That is far and away more than the amount which comes back in food subsidies. Again, when she gets that depreciated amount of wages, not only has she to provide food, but she has to purchase a great number of items for the family which are subject to Purchase Tax.

Therefore, all the time, the family is contributing far more in duties than it receives in subsidies. This is one of the reasons why we are finding now that taxation amounts to 40 per cent. of the national income, because there is the great sum of £500 million—or in this Budget something over £450 million—added on the expenditure side. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is interfering with the family budget. He says that he is far better capable of dealing with the family budget than is the wife herself.

Surely, this argument is only valid on an assumption which is not true, namely that the product of the tobacco and beer duties is allocated to the food subsidies. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman will now make a comparison not between tobacco and beer duties on the one hand and food subsidies on the other, but between Income Tax and food subsidies, he will find himself telling a very different story.

The hon. Member has not followed me. All these are pooled in the amount of taxation. I am pointing out that apart from this, usually when one is taxing, it is done for services such as the Defence Services, and one is not paying it back directly to the taxpayer. There is a better distribution of income. This is not a distribution of income. That is my complaint. I suggest that the Chancellor ought to go into that matter and see how they can be reduced, reducing at the same time those duties which are now falling so heavily on every family, especially the lower income families. This is a very expensive way of taking the money out of one pocket and putting it partly back into another pocket in some other form.

The Chancellor said that there ought to be a tidying up and a simplification of taxation. He said that that task, even with regard to Income Tax, was too large for the moment. He is setting up an inquiry into the method of computing net trade profits. That, although it is vital, is an inquiry within a very limited sphere. Since 1943, we have been asking for a review of the whole of our methods of taxation. That was the time when the authorities should have devoted themselves to considering what might be the position after the war. We could have considered whether we could readjust these matters so that our taxation could be put on a sounder basis. If that had been done, I am sure that we should now be meeting the burden of taxation much more easily than we are meeting it today. The Chancellor has said that he would like to tackle Income Tax, but that that would take time. Was it not a matter which ought to have been tackled years ago? By this time we should have had a much sounder scheme.

There is only one of the main items on the expenditure side which may be reduced in years to come. We are now in a period and we shall remain in a period, of high taxation and high expenditure. Possibly there is only one item which may be reduced, and that will not depend on us alone. It will depend on the attitude of the other countries of the world, and whether some way can be devised of living in peace so that there will not have to be this great preparation for war.

Finally, I come to the question of increasing the national wealth and the national income. This can only be done by the people themselves. Apart from the item of the initial allowance for wear and tear, there is little in this Budget to provide an incentive to further production, enterprise or initiative. Rather than encourage this, the Chancellor said, "You had better get on with your work and work even harder, lest worse befall you." That is not encouragement: it is only a threat. I think that if he had tackled the question of reviewing the whole position with regard to the way in which taxation should be adjusted in this country, he would now have been in a position to offer concrete benefits which would be a proper reward for those with initiative and enterprise and those who are prepared to work hard, not only for their own benefit, but for the benefit of the country.

4.20 p.m.

Like the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies), I also find singularly little in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Anderson) even calling for reply this afternoon. We gathered that the right hon. Gentleman did not like the increase in the Death Duties. We gathered that he was not altogether happy about a method of taxing free lunches for business men. If that were possible, the right hon. Gentleman even added at some length to the amount of confusion which already exists in his mind, though I did understand at the end that he expected that there would be an increase. Then, he seemed to agree that the social services were not a bad investment, and thought they would increase production and productivity over a long period. He seemed to find that the increases in the social services which have been carried through in this Parliament have so far contributed very little to production. The right hon. Gentleman then went on to offer what I thought were some rather disconnected remarks about coal nationalisation, mechanisation, exports, sugar and the London Docks. I need not remind him that the new measures of social services came into effect only a few months ago, and he would hardly have been led to expect them to have had any causal connection with production in a few months.

Yes, the right hon. Gentleman said they should in the long run, but the Measures passed by this Government cannot be expected to add very much to any increase yet, and I am quite sure that the right hon. Gentleman did not expect it. He did, however, mention the coal industry, and, there at least, the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act, recent of introduction though it may be, has played an important part in improving the recruitment position in the coalmining industry. In an industry with such a high rate of casualties, now, at least, those who work in it have some confidence that they are not, as they used to be when the party opposite was in power, going to be thrown on the industrial scrap-heap as soon as they are injured.

None of the speeches, either by the right hon. Gentleman or by his colleagues who have spoken since my right hon. and learned Friend opened his Budget on Wednesday afternoon, has made any suggestion of an alternative economic policy to the one which His Majesty's Government have been pursuing—the policy set out in the Economic Survey, in the Four-Year Plan, and my right hon. and learned Friend's Budget speech. All the criticisms made have been on detailed financial proposals, and these will be dealt with by my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary and by the Chancellor when they speak tomorrow. With the broad lines of the financial policy the Government have been following I have heard no suggestion of disagreement in the speeches of right hon. Gentlemen opposite, apart from vague demands for reductions in Government expenditure, entirely unsupported, as the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery has just shown, by even one specific suggestion of a single supply service, whether social services, defence, pensions, housing or any of the administrative services, which they would suggest cutting.

On the general economic policy, on production, on controls, on investment, on exports, we have heard scarcely a breath of criticism of the policy put before the House on successive occasions by the Government, and certainly no suggestion that the Opposition have an alternative policy to lay before the country.

May I make an interruption which is completely friendly? I have been a Member of the Public Accounts Committee for 10 or 12 years, and, although the amount of work has often been too much for us to get down to actual details—and I do not think any Committee of this House could do it—we have from time to time found really considerable waste and inefficiency which could be put right.

My hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benson) does not agree with the hon. and gallant Gentleman, but I was not talking about the Public Accounts Committee. In the speeches of right hon. Gentlemen opposite since last Wednesday, there has not been the slightest suggestion of any alternative policy to compare with the one which we have put forward. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I am not sure whether the noble Lord the Member for South Dorset (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) means me to take account of his own contribution, but, in his speech there were at least a few fairly concrete suggestions, though I think the main effect of his speech, if, indeed, in the places where these things are settled, anybody would be likely to take notice of what he said, would be that they would think it was designed to shake confidence in sterling. Apart from that, and the speech of the hon. Member for Chippenham (Mr. Eccles), we have certainly not had any concrete proposition to put before the Committee.

Apart from these three speeches, the general line of the remarks we have heard from the other side has been, if not to endorse the general economic policy of the Government, at least to fail entirely to find anything to criticise in It. Gone are the days, it would seem, when they could suggest that all our production problems could be solved with a slogan—whether "Set the People Free" or any other—or that our balance of payments problems could be solved, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) has so often contended, by diverting goods from export to the home consumer, and paying our way abroad with what he called the overspill from the home market. We have not even heard a word about controls, but just some nice self-assurances that all the great achievements of 1948, to which my right hon. Friend referred, and to which the facts bear witness, are due to the resilience, the ingenuity and skill of private enterprise.

What a difference from the speeches we heard two years, even one year, ago. The motif is changed. The tune is entirely different. No longer do we hear that production is strangled by the controls of which we have heard so much, that our export targets are beyond possibility of achievement because of regulations and permits. Even hon. Members opposite have come to realise that private enterprise has produced on a vastly greater scale under this Socialist Government than it ever did when we had a Tory Government. Of course, the production and export achievements of 1948 and 1949 are a tribute to private enterprise, and due acknowledgment has been made on a score of occasions by my right hon. Friend and other Members of the Government.

They are a tribute, in truth, to all our people, to private enterprise and public enterprise, to workers and managements, technicians, and salesmen, to all who have contributed to this great effort of production and export. And they are a tribute, too, to the wisdom of the economic policies which this Government have laid down and followed over the past four years.

Is it the view of the right hon. Gentleman that the more Socialism there is in this country the more successful private enterprise will be?

On the limited experience of the last few years, that is certainly so. If the hon. Gentleman would like me to develop that point, I should be happy to do so in a few moments. I do not like making bold assertions without offering some basis of support. The nation as a whole in the later months of 1948 was producing at a rate of some-think like 40 per cent. above 1935, which I take as an average pre-war year—not a slump-ridden year, but an average prewar year.