House Of Commons
Tuesday, 12th April, 1949
The House met at Half-past Two o'Clock
[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]
Hurst Park Race Course Bill Lords
Read the Third time, and passed, with Amendments.
University Of Nottingham Bill
Read the Third time, and passed.
Bolton Corporation Bill
As amended, to be considered upon Wednesday, 27th April.
City Of London (Various Powers) Bill
As amended, considered; a Clause added; an Amendment made to the Bill; Bill to be read the Third time.
Oral Answers To Questions
Regular Reservists (Pay)
asked the Secretary of State for War if he can now make a statement on the regulation laying down that Regular Army Reservists joining the Territorial Army are required to renounce their right to reserve pay.
A man serving in the Reserve cannot enlist in the Territorial Army without first being discharged from the Reserve. A scheme is, however, now being drawn up by which Reservists will be able to volunteer for attachment to the Territorial Army while keeping their Reserve liabilities and pay.
Under the scheme that is being drawn up, will they be paid as volunteers and receive the allowance of volunteer members of the Territorial Army?
As the hon. Member is aware, these Regular Reservists receive pay of not less than £18 5s. a year; while they are attached to the Territorial Army they will receive the usual emoluments, but not the bounty.
asked the Secretary of State for War why ex-Squadron Sergeant-Major A. F. Beal, D.C.M., 1st King's Dragoon Guards, and other highly experienced non-commissioned officers have been discharged from the Territorial Army.
This warrant officer is a Section B reservist. As such he cannot enlist into the Territorial Army until he has been discharged from the Reserve. As a result of a mistake he went through the form of enlistment into the Territorial Army without having been discharged from the Reserve. When the mistake was discovered he opted to remain on the Reserve. I am not aware of any similar cases.
Will he be able to join the Territorial Army under the new scheme which the right hon. Gentleman announced in answer to my earlier Question?
Yes, Sir, he will be eligible for attachment to the Territorial Army.
asked the Secretary of State for War why volunteers in Greenjacket units of the Territorial Army are not issued with green berets, though a free issue is made to National Service men in Greenjacket units.
The production of coloured berets is limited, and they are being issued to the active Army first. They will, however, be issued to the Territorial Army eventually, when supplies become available.
On occasions of shortage like this, would it not be wise to give priority to volunteers even over the National Service men? Is it not necessary and desirable to encourage the volunteer?
Of course it is desirable to encourage the volunteer. We are doing all we can in that direction, but we must supply the Regular Army.
Who gets the un coloured berets?
I presume that my hon. and learned Friend means the khaki berets. They go to all the men who require them.
Officers' Marriage Allowance
asked the Secretary of State for War at what age officers of the Army serving on Regular and emergency commissions, respectively, become eligible for the increased rate of marriage allowances.
Emergency commissioned officers, except those whose Army service began on or after 1st January, 1947, and Regular officers without exception, are eligible under the normal rules for the increased rate of officers' marriage allowance if aged 25 or over and for the increased rate of warrant officers' marriage allowance if under 25.
Why is it necessary to discriminate in this respect at all between two classes of officers? Is the intention to give one class more than is needed for the purpose of the allowance or to give the other class less than is needed?
The discrimination is based on the differentiation between Regular officers and National Service officers.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the time is long overdue when all married officers should receive this marriage allowance, and also that the War Office should cease to arrogate to itself the right to determine when a man should get married?
What I have been asked to do is to reply to the Question on the Order Paper, and not to indicate my agreement with the hon. Gentleman.
It might embarrass the Government.
Is it not a fact that young men as married officers are not very desirable officers in a unit, and has not that something to do with the reason why this differentiation is made?
Of course, there is a rule that certain emoluments do not apply to officers who marry under the age of 25, but so far as I am personally concerned I will do nothing to discourage anyone marrying who is under 25.
Can the right hon. Gentleman explain why officers who are charged with the responsibilities of training and caring for their men and of inspiring discipline in them are at the same time not considered eligible to marry and bring up a family? What is the discrimination?
Any officer of the required age and in the proper circumstances is eligible to marry.
Oh, no, for he does not get the allowance.
Battledress (National Service Men)
5 and 6.
asked the Secretary of State for War (1) whether he will allow National 'Service men on demobilisation to retain their khaki battledress without payment;(2) how many suits of battledress, dyed blue, have been sold to National Service men on demobilisation; and how many National Service men, who have not returned their khaki battledresses on demobilisation, have been debited with the cost.
I am anxious to reduce to a minimum the wearing of battledress by civilians. If National Service men were given a suit of battledress on demobilisation this would increase the indiscriminate wearing of it by civilians. In present circumstances, however, provision is made to allow a National Service man to go home on demobilisation in a suit of battledress if he so desires. This battledress is regarded as on loan and he is expected and encouraged to return it within 10 days. If he does this, he is not charged for it, but a charge is made for suits not returned, in order that there may be an incentive to return them. The general issue on repayment of battledress dyed blue has not begun. Up to 6th April, approximately 6,500 National Service men had failed to return their battledress within the stated period and been debited with the cost.
Is it not a fact that many of these people go home in their khaki battledress because they have no adequate civilian dress to wear? Would not my right hon. Friend's problem be obviated if he could prevail upon the Minister of Defence to give a £10 clothing allowance?
I do not see anything about that matter in the Question.
Would not the Secretary of State for War himself put on battledress and enter the fight for demob. suits for National Service men?
Married Officers' Quarters, Middle East
asked the Secretary of State for War what was the annual rental of a major's married quarter in the Middle East before this was recently increased; and how much was the increase.
I am not aware of any recent increase in the annual rental of married officers' quarters. Since 1st July, 1946, the annual quartering charge for a major occupying a married officer's quarter has been £100 furnished or £70 unfurnished.
I have a letter containing a categorical statement about a recent increase, which I will forward to the right hon. Gentleman if he would like to see it?
I should be very glad to have it. I am not aware of any increase in the rental.
Town And Country Planning
County Committee, Cornwall
asked the Minister of Town and Country Planning if he will change the method of appointment to the Cornwall County Planning Committee so as not to exclude from representation the Camborne-Redruth Urban District.
The Cornwall county scheme, to which the Camborne-Redruth Urban District Council assented, provides that a proportion only of the county districts are represented on the County Planning Committee in any given year. The selection is made by the area committees, on which all county districts in the areas are represented, and though Camborne-Redruth were not selected this year, they have an opportunity of being selected in future years. Any amendment of the scheme would be a matter for the county council.
Is it not clear that the method at present adopted for making appointments to this committee is unsatisfactory, if it tends to exclude in any way an urban district of the size of Camborne-Redruth, which is not only the largest in the county but the most populous? Does the right hon. Gentleman think that any effective planning for West Cornwall can be done when such a large area, with all the advice that it could give, is excluded? Will he use his good offices with the county council to get them to amend this scheme?
The scheme is one which was actually approved by the Camborne-Redruth Urban District Council. If they no longer approve it, I would suggest that they might take the initiative.
Housing Development, Mobberley
asked the Minister of Town and Country Planning whether any decision has yet been reached about the development of housing or a new town in the Mobberley area of Cheshire; what planning considerations have been applied; and whether he is satisfied that such development is in accordance with good planning.
I decided to proceed no further with the proposal for a new town at Mobberley when it became clear that there was no site in the area sufficiently large and at the same time sufficiently free from the risk of subsidence to justify the use of the machinery provided by the New Towns Act. I hope, however, to be able to announce a decision shortly on a separate proposal by Manchester City Council to develop a limited area at Mobberley for the reception of overspill population and industry from the city. Meanwhile, I can assure the hon. Member that all relevant planning and other considerations, including the need to provide land for Manchester's housing, will be taken into account in determining the nature and extent of any development.
Is the Minister justified in allowing a corporation to acquire for building purposes land which is unsuitable owing to salt and/or peat deposits?
That is a general question which I am not able to answer. If the hon. and gallant Member quotes a specific case to me I will deal with it.
asked the Minister of Town and Country Planning what is the amount of good agricultural land and land containing deposits of peat which are involved in the area now under consideration for the development of a new town in the Mobberley area of Cheshire; what are the precise sites under consideration; and what is the estimated loss of milk and other agricultural products which will arise from withdrawing this land from agricultural use.
I would refer the hon. Member to my answer to the previous Question. Since it is not proposed to use the machinery provided by the New Towns Act at Mobberley, the precise extent of any area that may be developed there will primarily be a matter for settlement between the local authorities concerned. The Ministry of Agriculture will, however, be consulted about the boundary of any site which it may be proposed to develop, and about the stages by which land should be withdrawn from agricultural use.
In view of the urgent necessity of producing as much food as possible in this country, is it wise to develop a new town on land which consists of part of the best agricultural land in Cheshire?
That is, of course, the reason for the discussions which will be taking place with the Ministry of Agriculture for the purpose of determining the exact site.
Cannot the overspill population of Manchester be rehoused in Lancashire on land which is of less agricultural value than in Cheshire?
That point has, of course, been considered, but some of the large towns in Lancashire themselves have overspill populations.
Are there not alternative sites within reasonable access of Manchester, where the land is of less agricultural value? Have not the National Farmers' Union already submitted alternative proposals?
I am satisfied that there is no land of less agricultural value which would be satisfactory for this purpose.
Is it not possible that if we excavated enough peat we would find an old town of Mobberley?
Would my right hon. Friend bear in mind the shortage of building land in Lancashire, and take whatever steps are available to provide building land in the adjoining areas?
asked the Minister of Town and Country Planning what will be the approximate cost of excavating the peat, filling up and compaction per acre in the sites under consideration for development of a new town in the Mobberley area of Cheshire.
I would refer the hon. and gallant Member to my answer to the previous Questions. The cost of preparing any site for development could not be estimated until the site has been fairly precisely defined.
Will there be auger borings on a grid system to ascertain the amount of the deposits of peat and/or salt under the site in question; and is this not now more than ever necessary in view of the borings which have already disclosed deposits of peat and/or salt in that area?
All necessary investigations of the site will, of course, be made.
Will the right hon. Gentleman inform us whether there has been or will be a full public inquiry which will cover the points raised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Knutsford (Lieut.-Colonel Bromley-Davenport)?
Quite naturally, if any objection is taken to the site which is eventually chosen, there will be a public inquiry.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is considerable local apprehension about this matter, and will he initiate an inquiry before any further action is taken?
There is adequate machinery for objections. If there is this considerable apprehension, I have no doubt that it will make itself felt by objections.
asked the Minister of Town and Country Planning how much agricultural land was taken during 1946, 1947 and 1948 by the Ministries of Health, Transport, Fuel and Power, Civil Aviation, Works, and Town and Country Planning and by the War Office, the Air Ministry and the Scottish Office, respectively; and what acreage is expected to be required by these Departments in 1949, 1950 and 1951.
It is impracticable to give the information in the form requested since the necessary records have not been kept in the past and a forecast for the future would take some time to prepare. The existing statistics of the two Agricultural Departments, which cover nearly all the agricultural land in Great Britain, show for the years 1946, 1947 and 1948 an average net annual loss from all causes of some 8,000 acres. I should, however, point out that there are substantial variations from year to year. There was, for example a loss of 73,000 acres in the year 1946–47, and a gain of 80,000 acres in the year 1947–48. I am examining with my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries whether figures which would not be misleading could be made available periodically to show changes in the acreage of agricultural land.
In view of the general planning, can the Minister give some indication of the amount of land required, at any rate in the next year? Will he give an assurance that where possible land of secondary agricultural value will be taken and not the best agricultural land?
I can certainly give an assurance on the lines of the second part of the supplementary question. As to the first part, until plans are submitted to me I am not in a position to say how much land will be involved.
asked the Minister of Town and Country Planning how many applications he has received under Sections 19 and 20 of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947; how many of these have been allowed and rejected, respectively; and what is the average period which elapses between the making of an application under these sections and a final decision by the Minister in regard to it.
The number of purchase notices received by me under Section 19 is 570. Of these, 79 have been confirmed and my proposals to confirm 227 others have been notified to the parties concerned. In four other cases I have reversed the decision of the local planing authority which gave rise to the purchase notice and allowed the development to proceed; and in seven other cases I have notified my proposal to take similar action. In eight cases the notices have been rejected. The average period which elapses between the serving of a purchase notice on the local authority and my final decision is 19 weeks. This includes the time during which the notice is with the local authority, the statutory period of 28 days during which a hearing may be claimed, and the time needed to consider the notice. I have no information about the number of claims for compensation received by local planning authorities under Section 20.
Will my right hon. Friend take steps to expedite the decision in these cases, particularly in instances where the property is situated in areas of major war damage? People have been waiting a very long time either to develop or to have their land acquired, and there is a sense of frustration on account of these delays.
I will certainly do my best, but I am not aware that there is any avoidable delay.
Development Charge (Building Land)
asked the Minister of Town and Country Planning whether his attention has been drawn to the impossibility in many areas of obtaining sites at existing use value for the purpose of building houses and to the attempts being made by many landowners to force would-be purchasers to pay the amount of development charge twice over; and what steps are being taken by him or by the Central Land Board to deal with this state of affairs.
Yes, Sir; and the most effective step that can be taken is for purchasers themselves to refuse to buy or lease land except by one of the methods recommended in the Central Land Board pamphlet "House 1," a copy of which I am sending to my hon. Friend. Where approved development is being held up by the price asked for the land the Board are prepared to take the matter up with the seller and in appropriate cases to purchase land under Section 43 of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, for resale to developers.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that I know the pamphlet "House 1" very well indeed, having distributed mnay copies of it, but may I ask for the help of his Ministry in getting the existence of the leaflet more widely known so that people will not be held to ransom in the way that many are who want to buy sites at the present time?
We have done everyhing we possibly can.
Is not the complaint of the hon. Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Mrs. Middleton) a necessary result of the 1947 Act because no inducement whatever is left to the landowner to sell his land?
I do not agree at all.
asked the Minister of Labour if he will state the number of persons, male and female separately, on the disabled persons' register; and the number of such persons registered as unemployed at the latest available date in each of the 11 regions in Great Britain.
As the answer contains a table of figures, I will, with permission, circulate it in the OFFICIAL REPORT.
Following is the answer:
At 17th January, 1949, there were 913,340 persons registered under the Disabled Persons (Employment) Act, 1944. This figure included 840,366 males and 72,974 females.
At 21st February, 1949, the numbers of unemployed registered disabled persons in each Region were as follow:
|London & South Eastern||12,301||1,069||13,370|
|West & East Ridings||5,149||156||5,305|
Displaced Persons' Camp, Full Sutton
asked the Minister of Labour whether he has now received the correspondence forwarded by the hon. Member for Howdenshire to the Secretary of State for the Home Department on 4th April, regarding the behaviour of displaced persons accommodated at the camp at Full Sutton; and whether he has been able to complete his inquiries into this matter.
Yes, Sir, but the inquiries of my right hon. Friend are not yet complete.
In view of the somewhat discourteous reply which I received to a Question on this subject which I put down on 7th April, can it be made clear that this Question was first addressed to the Home Secretary and was then passed to the Minister of Labour, and when this occurs can it be arranged for the correspondence and the evidence also to be transferred?
I understand that the correspondence has been transferred. I would also assure the hon. Gentleman that we have every sympathy with his constituent and we shall take all the steps that are open to us to see that British farmers are not annoyed either by our own people or by D.P.'s for whom we have a personal responsibility.
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he is yet in a position to give details of the re-organisation at the factory of Tulos Limited, at Aberdeen, which has already caused serious unemployment there; and if he will take immediate steps to remedy this grave situation.
I understand that the position at the moment is very fluid and I am unable to make any statement.
Cannot my right hon. Friend devise some means whereby this exceptionally well equipped factory can be kept in production and the growing unemployment there obviated?
I can appreciate my hon. and learned Friend's concern, but it is a private enterprise factory and a private firm and, of course, it is impossible for us to interfere with its management; but we are hoping that it will be able to settle its affairs and carry on its work.
Distribution Of Industry (Wick)
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will give his reasons for refusing to schedule Wick as a Development Area under the Distribution of Industry Act, 1945, in view of the unemployment which prevails in spite of continuous emigration.
In paragraph 90 of the White Paper on Distribution of Industry (Cmd. 7540) the reasons for not scheduling small areas which form "pockets" of unemployment are given. Wick is an area which depends largely on such industries as agriculture, fisheries and tourism, for which much is being done apart from the Distribution of Industry Act.
Does the Secretary of State deny that Wick is in greater need than any other town in the Highlands, and why does he persist in refusing to use his abundant powers for the benefit of the people?
The Distribution of Industry Act lays down very definitely the conditions under which an area can be made a Development Area, and these do not apply in that sense to Wick.
Can the right hon. Gentleman say how they can possibly apply to 36 small parishes in Easter Ross and yet cannot apply to Wick which is the largest town north of Inverness?
I must refer the hon. Gentleman to the Debate we had on this subject.
Military Training Area, Hawick
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether in view of the amount of land already lost to food production in Scotland and the fact that some 40,000 acres are now in the ownership or are otherwise available to the War Department for tank training near Hawick, he will consult with the Secretary of State for War in order to prevent the use for military training purposes of a further 4,800 acres of the highest quality sheep land in the Roberton district of Lanarkshire, which is also within about 50 miles of Hawick.
I have ordered a public local inquiry into the proposal to use the Roberton area for military purposes. I am unable to make any statement until I have considered the results of the inquiry.
Will the right hon. Gentleman have in mind that his overriding duty to Scotland is to secure the maintenance of food production and not to allow his right hon. Friend to lead him into untried paths of military activity?
The question of what is the overriding purpose of using the land in Scotland covers many things and I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman will raise his points in the military Debates.
In view of the fact that over 22,000 sheep have already been lost to this part of Scotland and in view of the meat shortage, will my right hon. Friend oppose in every possible way further acquisition by the military authorities?
An inquiry into these matters is proceeding.
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland to what extent contracts for this season's fresh or cured Scotch herring have been made with the Control Commission in Germany or are contemplated; and what are the maximum quantities in cwts.
No contracts for the supply of fresh or cured herring to Germany from the coming season's catch have yet been made but negotiations are expected to begin next week.
Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that our people are in urgent need of food, particularly proteins and fats, and will he take steps to see that they get the first refusal of these valuable herring?
The herring are made available to our people and there is no difficulty on that score.
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he estimates that the quick-freezing targets for herring set out on page 26 of the Herring Industry Report for the year ended 31st March, 1946, are likely to be achieved by 1951 or at an earlier date.
The difficulties of obtaining plant and of working at a profit under the existing price arrangements make it unlikely that the Herring Industry Board's target will be reached by 1951.
Who controls the existing price arrangements? It must be the Government, of which the right hon. Gentleman is a member. Will he take steps to see that a price control arrangement is made possible, so that this great development can come about?
These matters are continually under discussion, and everything is being done to help the herring industry, as the hon. Gentleman knows.
Shop Premises (Tenancies)
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland under what regulations it is competent for sheriff officers to serve tenants of shop premises in Scotland with notices to quit; whether such notices are authorised by the sheriff; and what steps are provided to enable tenants who receive these notices to appeal.
It is competent for a sheriff officer on behalf of the landlord to serve a notice to quit on a tenant of shop premises. This notice does not imply any decision by the court, and a tenant who receives such a notice may appeal to the sheriff for a renewal of tenancy, provided that the notice to quit has not taken effect and that application is made within 21 days of the service of the notice, or of the passing of the Act (which received Royal Assent on 29th March, 1949), whichever period ends the later.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that this type of notice is now coming to be regarded as an attempt to stampede the tenant into paying the price or the rent asked for, regardless of the protection in the new legislation?
In that case perhaps this Question and my answer will clear away any misapprehension.
Ministry Of Food
asked the Prime Minister whether, in view of the apprehension of farm and horticultural producers in the United Kingdom, as a result of the present policy of the Ministry of Food, he will consider merging the Ministry of Food with the Ministry of Agriculture to enable the Ministry of Agriculture more adequately to protect the interests of the home producers, and to ensure increased home food production.
do not accept the implications in the hon. Member's Question, but in any case the answer is in the negative.
Is the Prime Minister aware that I never accept a peremptory answer without some fuller explanation? Is the right hon. Gentleman also aware of the widespread apprehension throughout all the rural areas with regard to the policy of the Ministry of Food, which is diametrically opposed to the increased production of food at home, and will he now do something about this all important matter, in view of the fact that all rural areas are absolutely against the Prime Minister in this matter? There is no one for him.
The hon. Member is now repeating the allegation which I have already not accepted, and I do not think I can accept it that the hon. Member knows exactly what everybody in the rural areas is thinking.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the interests of consumers need protecting as well as the interests of producers, and will he do nothing to establish a monopoly for home producers which would tend to drive up prices still further?
Does the right hon. Gentleman mean by his reply that not even in a tentative form does he intend to look into this desirable reform?
I said nothing of the sort.
As the Prime Minister will not abolish the Ministry of Food or combine it with the Ministry of Agriculture, would he ask the Minister of Food to co-operate much more closely with the Minister of Agriculture, especially in enabling dollars with which he would like to buy food to be made available so that the Minister of Agriculture can buy feedingstuffs?
The hon. Member is now asking a Question which has been asked several times in the last few weeks. There is co-ordination between the two Ministers.
In view of the thoroughly unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I shall raise this matter again and again. I shall go on and on. It is monstrous!
Government Departments (Payments)
asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he is now able to make a statement on the practice of Government Departments when moneys are collected owing to a mistake of law.
This question is still under consideration.
Can the Chancellor give an assurance that a public answer will be given on this question, and would he tell me if I can usefully put a Question down again?
I am afraid I could not answer the last part of the question, but no doubt during the last part of the summer.
Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give a public answer to the Question?
Will my right hon. and learned Friend also take into consideration a statement on Government practice where money has failed to be collected owing to a mistake in the law?
Why should there be any need to consider what action has been taken when a Government Department has money which palpably does not belong to it?
It is necessary because it is a very complicated matter.
Gold Output, West Africa
asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer what steps he is taking to make an improvement in the gold production of the Gold Coast to help in bridging the gap in our dollar deficit; and what consultations he has had with the Colonial Secretary on this question.
His Majesty's Government are anxious that everything possible should be done consistent with our international obligations to stimulate the output of gold in West Africa, and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies gave the House some account of the measures that are being taken in his speech on 31st March. I do not, however, consider that in present circumstances a scheme along the lines of the Canadian subsidy would be appropriate.
Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that he is not asked anything about the Canadian subsidy in this Question? What he is asked is whether he has been in consultation with the Colonial Secretary, as the Colonial Secretary stated at the end of the Debate that most of the suggestions made had nothing to do with him but were entirely connected with the Chancellor?
But I was asked whether I would apply the Canadian subsidy scheme, with necessary adjustments, to the gold mining industry of West Africa.
On a point of Order, if the Chancellor will look at Question No. 34, there is no such suggestion there.
I apologise. There was in the original form of the Question. I presume it has been taken out.
What is a gap in a deficit and how do you bridge it?
Lecturer, Usa (Dollar Allowance)
asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer what dollar allowance has been made to Mr. Cecil Palmer now lecturing in the United States under the auspices of the National Economic Council of America.
I regret that I cannot disclose particulars relating to the affairs of an individual.
While that may well be so, is not the Chancellor aware that this individual preaches anti-Semitism, criticises the Leader of the Opposition and attacks the Marshall Plan? As all these activities are calculated to increase the dollar difficulties of this country, is there not something he can do about it?
I am afraid I can do nothing about stopping Mr. Palmer doing any of those things.
Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that he can, if he desires it, get a much less coloured report of the activities of Mr. Cecil Palmer than that which the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeffington-Lodge) has just presented?
asked the Chancellor of the Echequer what will be the additional weekly cost per head of the increases in food prices proposed in his Budget.
The present weekly rations will cost just over 4d. per head more as a result of the increases in food prices proposed in my recent financial statement.
Would my right hon. and learned Friend appeal to the beer drinkers to give all the pennies they save on their pints to the housewives so that they can meet this additional cost?
I have no doubt they will do that without my appeal.
May I ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether, in the event of a break in food prices, which has already taken place in so many commodities, he would see that it is passed on to the consumer?
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would put that question on the Paper if he wishes it answered.
asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer what would be the estimated cost in the coming financial year of reducing by five years the ages at which post-war credits become payable.
I am afraid that this information is not available.
May I ask the Chancellor whether, in view of the cases of proved hardship and the fact that to include the lower age limits would cost a triflng sum, he will consider whether he can do anything about that?
War Damage Claims
asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he is now in a position to announce the number of war damage claims that have been rejected on the grounds alone that they were received too late.
The position is still as stated in the answer given on 15th February to my hon. Friend the Member for West Leicester (Mr. Janner).
But is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that since a recent Debate on a Private Member's Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Southampton (Mr. Morley), I have received another additional 100 cases from the City of Plymouth alone; and would not he agree that in order that the House may consider this matter adequately, the War Damage Commission should make the information for which this Question asks available to the House?
They cannot make it available because they have not got it, I am afraid.
asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer on what date E.C.A. approved our policy of cutting back the housing, health and education programmes in pursuance of the programme of giving priority to all uses of resources tending to create exports and go into capital formation at the cost of social services.
On no date, as there is no question of E.C.A. approval.
Is the Chancellor aware that when he appeared before the Foreign Relations Committee of the Senate, Mr. Finletter said that it was with E.C.A. approval that we had cut severely our housing, health and education expenditure, that they had still been somewhat troubled by our housing expenditure, but that they had come to the conclusion, after all, that the existing reduced expenditure was justified? Does not that amount to approval, and what would have happened to us if we had not had that?
It does not amount to approval, and nothing would have happened.
Trade And Commerce
Exports (Eastern Europe)
asked the President of the Board of Trade the value of industrial and manufactured goods exported from this country to Russia, Poland and Czechoslovakia during the first quarter of this year; and the value of raw material exported during the same period to these countries from the sterling area.
Export statistics are not yet available for the March quarter, but in January and February, 1949, the value of the United Kingdom exports of "articles wholly or mainly manufactured" to the Soviet Union, Poland and Czechoslovakia amounted to £1,704,000, £674,000 and £866,000, respectively. As regards the second part of the Question, I regret that I am unable to supply the information desired as statistics received from Commonwealth and foreign countries are not sufficiently detailed or up to date.
Will the President of the Board of Trade bear in mind the importance of developing exports to Eastern Europe of manufactured goods rather than of raw materials for stocking-up purposes?
Is the hon. Gentleman able to say whether the imports we received from those countries were greater or less than the amount of our exports to them?
I could not say without notice, but I should be happy to give the hon. Member that information.
asked the President of the Board of Trade when he anticipates that the negotiations for a long-term trade agreement with Yugoslavia will be concluded.
These negotiations are still in progress and I cannot as yet say when they are likely to be concluded.
asked the President of the Board of Trade what steps he takes to prevent the import of sadistic literature directed to the young from the United States of America and Canada.
If the hon. Member is referring to children's comics imported as supplements to newspapers, I would remind him that this is being done under an open general licence for newspapers which has been in operation since 1939. The importation of indecent or obscene literature is prohibited under Section 42 of the Customs Consolidation Act, 1876.
Is the Minister aware that the Director of Public Prosecutions drew attention to this very serious matter a few weeks ago and that since then the Home Secretary has not been able to give an assurance that the Commissioner of Police is taking proper precautions in the matter; and as most of this literature is imported from America and Canada surely his Department could take some steps in the matter; and will he give it his immediate attention?
My right hon. Friend does not think that censorship should be one of his functions. On the other hand, I think it wrong to waste dollars on newspapers which are imported not for their news content but because they happen to have these comic supplements. I have seen a number of these journals myself and, while I do not think they are any more sadistic than the ordinary British comic, I do think they are pretty trashy.
Would it not be more helpful if we could get some good literature from the United States, which none of us can buy, instead of these things?
That is an entirely different matter.
Is not the Minister aware that apart from this stuff there is a mass of other appalling stuff that comes from America which could not possibly be classified as literature in any sense, and would he stop it from coming into this country?
Will the Minister at least try to use his influence to stop the magazine proprietors in this country from buying the rights of American stories, Anglicising those stories and presenting them to British readers as though they were the products of British writers, who are put out of work as a result of this disgraceful practice?
asked the President of the Board of Trade whether, in view of the demands for British production of barium sulphate in connection with nuclear fission protection and for other purposes, he will take steps to co-ordinate the requirements of the Ministry of Supply, the Ministry of Works and the Board of Trade, together with any other interested Ministries for this commodity.
Supplies of barium sulphate, mainly from home sources, are sufficient to meet all requirements. It is possible, however, that the co-ordination of specifications for special Government needs would facilitate processing of the material, and the point is being pursued with the other Government Departments concerned.
Ministry Of Health (Equal Pay)
asked the Minister of Health whether in view of the fact that men and women employed in the National Health Service in the administrative, professional and technical grades receive equal pay, he will apply the same principle to other employees of his Department in similar grades.
I would refer the hon. Member to the reply about equal pay for men and women civil servants given by my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury on 24th February, 1949, to the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle).
Surely, a sense of injustice is bound to pervade the hon. Gentleman's Department if one section of his employees is paid on one principle and the other section is paid on another principle?
There is no change in the position, because those who are actually members of the Health Service were paid on that basis in the past.
Argentina (British Pensioners)
asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he is aware that remittances forbidden from the Argentine include small pensions to ex-railwaymen or their dependants now in this country; and if he will take steps to have these payments resumed.
I would refer my hon. Friend to the reply given in the House on 21st March, when it was explained that it is now possible for amounts not exceeding 250 pesos a month to be remitted to these British pensioners in this country. This restriction on the remittance of pensions in full is one aspect of the larger financial problem of payments between this country and Argentina, which is being actively pursued during the current negotiations in Buenos Aires.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that in the last three months many of these pensioners have spent sums of about £6 each on legal requirements, such as survival certificates and powers of attorney, in order to get a pension of less than £1 a week; that they have not qualified for National Insurance benefits in this country, and that many cases of hardship are involved?
I am aware that this is causing distress. We are doing our best in the present negotiations in the Argentine.
Can the Under-Secretary of State say how much 250 pesos amounts to in English currency?
I think it is about £12.
Strike, London Docks
(by Private Notice) asked the Minister of Labour whether he has any statement to make on the strike at the London Docks.
Yes, Sir. In discharge of their responsibility under the scheme the National Dock Labour Board on 26th November last issued a directive to the local boards instructing them to remove from the register men who, by reason of failing health or other physical incapacity which appeared to be of a permanent nature, were unable to meet the minimum requirements of the scheme or men who for any other reason were not carrying out to the full their obligations under the scheme, whether in the reserve pool or in employment.The National Dock Labour Board includes four representatives of employers and four representatives of workers, the workers' representatives being drawn from the Transport and General Workers' Union, the National Union of General and Municipal Workers and the National Amalgamated Stevedores and Dockers, and I am informed by the Board that the directive was issued after full discussion and as a result of a unanimous decision. This directive has been implemented in various ports throughout the country and in London on 10th January the local board appointed a sub-committee consisting of two employers and two trade union representatives to deal with the matter. Finally, as a result, 33 men were given notice of termination to take effect on 9th April. The men concerned had a right of appeal to tribunals selected by the two sides of the industry, and 21 appeals were lodged. One was allowed, leaving a total of 32 men whose notices took effect. Although the National Amalgamated Stevedores and Dockers are represented both on the national Board and the London Board, members of that union decided on Sunday last to stop work on Monday in protest against the dismissals. The strike has spread and I am informed by the Board that there are now approximately 13,000 men on strike, including members of the Transport and General Workers' Union, which union, however, condemns the strike as being unwarranted. This is a strike against the provisions of a scheme which was adopted by a national conference of the workers. If any modification or variation of the scheme is desired the National Joint Industrial Council for the industry provides the means by which it can be discussed, and if agreed brought to my notice. This stoppage of work, affecting as it does the whole traffic of the Port of London, constitutes a challenge to authority. There can be no doubt it is inspired by motives hostile to the best interests of the dockers as a whole and of the public. Important issues are involved and I would ask to be excused from making any further statement at present.
I think we would all understand the right hon. Gentleman's desire not to make a further statement, but may I ask how many ships are at present held up and whether he could make an estimate of the effect of this on the trade in the Port of London up to date; also whether I was right in understanding that all the unions concerned, and not only the Transport and General Workers' Union, were represented on the Board which took this decision?
I shall be glad to answer the right hon. Gentleman's question. Although I cannot say definitely, I think the number of ships held up is about 50 and it is bound to have a very serious effect on the supply of goods and requirements for the people of London, especially as it has happened, as on previous occasions, just before the holiday period. All the unions are represented and the union which has declared this an official strike is on the Board and took part in the negotiations.But it would be fair to the other large union concerned if I informed the House of the steps they have taken. During the night they had a leaflet printed which sets out the case of each of the 32 members affected and they finished the statement by this announcement:
which is approximately 27,000—"On behalf of the Executive Council we desire to put the following points to our members and to call on them to remain at work:
(1) The policy of this union is that we must abide by the machinery which has been established between the National Dock Labour Board and ourselves under the Dock Labour Regulation Scheme. (2) Every one of our members has had an opportunity of presenting his case and also has the right of being represented at his appeal by an official of this Union. (3) In the circumstances we say to our members that the strike is unwarranted. The facts of each particular case are known. (4) Of the total employed in the Port of London—"
that is 32."the number involved is as stated above"—
That is signed by the Docks Group Secretary of that union."(5) It cannot be said that there has been any desire or attempt to deal with any question of redundancy. The issue is whether a man is an effective Port worker or not."
The Transport and General Workers Union?
The Transport and General Workers Union.
Can my right hon. Friend say what action can be taken against these irresponsible elements in dockland who are causing this trouble and strife and also make a comment on the fact that one of the bona fide organisations ordered men to strike and completely ignored the fact that they should have given 21 days' notice? Will he also take note that the vast majority of the people involved do not know why they are on strike and their loyalty is again being exploited by irresponsible elements?
I should like to endorse the closing words of my hon. Friend's supplementary question. There is ample evidence that this trouble is being fomented by irresponsible people. As to the action to be taken, I have today had this letter sent to Mr. Barrett, the Secretary of the National Amalgamated Stevedores' and Dockers' Union, after a conversation on the telephone. We put this in writing:
"I refer to our telephone conversation today when you informed me that the strike at London Docks has received the official support of your Executive.
The Minister cannot enter into any discussion on the merits of the present dispute but, as I informed you, he feels he should have some explanation of the action of your executive in lending official support to what is clearly an illegal strike.
"I am accordingly to invite your Executive to meet me here today for that purpose."
Are any perishable foodstuffs involved—
Stir it up.
—and, if so, are any steps being taken to safeguard them?
Perishable foodstuffs are involved and the Government will take steps 'to see that every opportunity is taken to preserve them.
As one who has often been associated with what are known as "irresponsible people," may I ask if there is no way of handling this question that originated the strike, other than through directives? Is there any method of consultation of any kind with the dockers, apart from the fact that certain officials sit on a particular board? Is there any consultation with the dockers? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, despite the fact that it is not desirable nowadays to show loyalty to the working class, my sympathies are all with the strikers?
So far as consultation is concerned, the normal process with members of a union is through their union officials, and the union officials in this case took part in the preliminary negotiations and were parties unanimously to this directive, which was issued for the purpose of clearing up these matters. As to the question of where loyalty lies, loyalty lies with those who are prepared to abide by the rules of their union and not to throw them overboard.
Is Mr. Barrett a member of the Board which gave this directive?
Yes, Mr. Barrett is a member of the Board.
Is it not a fact that the only method by which willing men can get on the register is, normally, by the wastage which takes place in regard to the organisation of the dockers?
The normal way of getting on the register is when there are vacancies and more men are required. But when one considers the conditions under which dockers had to go to work in the old days and the conditions under which they now go to work and get security of some reward if they are not required to work, it is a very great tragedy indeed that the scheme should be risked?
Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is a complete machinery here which can be used, and is it not a shocking thing that an organisation has a meeting on a Sunday calling an official strike on the Monday without 21 days' notice? It is a fair neither to the membership of the organisation, nor to the Government, nor the Minister of Labour.
Yes, Sir, but I hope I made it clear that official machinery was used and the Appeal Board of two workers' representatives and two employers was used, and it was against the decision of.their own Board and constituted machinery that action was taken.
Is it not undesirable to issue a pamphlet giving particulars of these 32 men, as 'that might jeopardise their getting employment elsewhere?
Names are not mentioned in the leaflet, but merely the cases. When there are cases in which a man has done only one half-day's work in 50 weeks and others have done two days' work in 50 weeks and are paid their stand-off wage all the time, it is necessary that those men who had been fomented into taking action by an allegation in the leaflet of the Stevedores' Union, should have the true facts brought home to them by the loyal union.
Business Of The House
The hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) has informed me that he is not prepared to withdraw his Motion relating to the Chairman of Ways and Means and he has come to this view after carefully considering the exchanges which took place across the Floor of the House at the end of Questions last Thursday.In view of this, the Government feel that time should be afforded for the consideration of the Motion and we propose to the House that it should be taken as third Order tomorrow (Wednesday) after the Report stage of the Budget Resolutions and the Report from the Business Committee on the Iron and Steel Bill. We hope that the House will agree to dispose of this issue after about an hour's debate. We should then proceed with the other Business already announced, namely, the Second Reading of the Housing (Scotland) Bill and Committee stage of the necessary Money Resolution and the Committee and remaining stages of the Agricultural Wages (Scotland) Bill (Lords) which is a consolidation Measure.
What opportunity will be given to make up the hour for the Housing (Scotland) Bill?
My hon. Friend may be sure that that aspect of the matter will not be overlooked.
Orders Of The Day
Ways And Means
Considered in Committee [ Progress, 11th 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
So far in this Debate there has been practically no challenge to the Government's basic decision to continue their general disinflation policy in the present Budget but to a lesser degree. I do not think that any hon. Member has argued that we ought to have budgeted this year for a deficit, on the ground that the time for disinflation is over. The hon. Member for Chippenham (Mr. Eccles) tried to make our flesh creep, as usual, with predictions of unemployment to come; though, also as usual, he did not tell us very clearly what he would do about it. The hon. Member for Stockport (Sir A. Gridley) and others have also spoken of diminishing order books and difficulties with export sales.A good many signs of disinflation, both at home and abroad, have been quoted; and it is perfectly true that these signs, which we have been watching carefully, are visible. They certainly establish that the Government's general policy over the last 18 months has succeeded in checking the inflationary tendencies, which everybody agreed were dangerous to our whole economic stability a year ago. But they surely do not establish any more than this. Anybody still in doubt on this point should study the figures of unemployment and the cost of living in recent months. Perhaps the best single criterion of success in internal economic policy these days is the extent to which we can prevent either unemployment or the cost of living from rising. That is the objective we have set ourselves over this last 18 months, and have in face very largely attained. The Retail Price Index, after the changes in the present Budget, will be barely one point higher than it was in June of last year, and only two to three points higher than it was in April of last year. Total unemployment, as hon. Members will have seen from the figures given out this morning, have not merely fallen further between January and March this year than it did last year; but is lower this year as against the previous autumn than it was last winter. In particular, hon. Members will have been glad to see that in March unemployment has again fallen further in both Scotland and Wales, where we have been working particularly hard to get it down. This evidence, I suggest, would not justify our flying into a panic and reversing the whole policy of disinflation this spring. Such a reversal would in fact mean throwing away most of the substantial gains of the last 18 months. It does however justify our relaxing the degree of disinflationary impulse in this year's Budget compared with last. That we have done. The hon. Member for South Hammersmith (Mr. W. T. Williams) in his very persuasive maiden speech yesterday—on which I am glad to have the chance to congratulate him—argued that we ought to take the non-financial as well as the financial factors into account in framing our Budget policy. I entirely agree with him, and we have in fact done so. If we had followed the strict logic of the financial situation, we should have found it leading us to a much bleaker Budget than the one which my right hon. and learned Friend has introduced. We have not allowed ourselves to become the slaves of our statistics—which, in my view, are good servants but bad masters. We have taken a general view of the situation, and in particular of the movement in the cost of living and unemployment. Actually, the overall Budget surplus will be reduced by our proposals from £352 million in 1948-49 to only £14 million in 1949–50. What my right hon. and learned Friend called the "true revenue surplus," that is, the surplus after loan and other non-revenue items have been eliminated on both sides, will be £192 million less this year than last. That represents a material easing of the disinflationary drive by the Government. If it is agreed that there are not as yet any signs of real deflation, and that we should not be justified in abandoning the overall surplus altogether, it follows that we have to face the problem of the mounting food subsidy bill, coming on top of the inevitable increase in expenditure on the Health Service and other social services and Defence. Do not let us forget that, of the annual cost of the Health Service, the Exchequer provides £260 million and the ordinary employed man, through the 8½d. out of the 4s. 11d. a week insurance contribution, only £34 million. If we are to retain control of the financial and economic situation, avoid inflation, and at the same time fully finance these rising items of expenditure, and the investment programme of which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Portsmouth (Major Bruce) spoke yesterday, there are really only two ways out of this dilemma. One would be a steep rise in taxation, which I notice nobody has advocated in the past three days. The other is by calling a halt, at the maximum now reached, to the increases in the subsidy bill. This bill which stood at £265 million in 1945–46 and which both the previous and the present Chancellors sought to hold at £400 million, in fact rose to £485 million last year. That was on the same basis and including the amounts we are cancelling out this year by reductions in the tea and sugar duties. It would have risen, on the same basis again, to £568 million this year. What were we to do about this dilemma? I am a firm believer in food subsidies as a general policy. I am convinced they have been a major factor in preserving our economic stability and avoiding inflation—to the great envy of many other countries—in the last few years; and incidentally they have greatly assisted the export drive by keeping down costs. I also agree with the hon. Member for South Hammersmith that they ought to be used as what he called "a weapon of social welfare." I totally disagree with the famous demand made by the right hon. Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Anderson) that they should be reduced to "negligible proportions." The right hon. Gentleman complained yesterday of misrepresentation, but those were the exact words he used. I noticed that his policy of making sweeping cuts, or soaking the poor—because that is what it would amount to—was substantially supported in this Debate by two Tory Members, the hon. Member for West Harrow (Mr. Bower) on the one hand, who spoke of the "virtual elimination" of food subsidies, and the noble Lord the Member for Dorset South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) on the other, who wanted to cut last year's total by £100 million, if I understood him aright. Both these hon. Members were speaking on an afternoon when their Party's propagandists in the local elections were telling the voters that a Tory Government would mean a lower cost of living. I hope that the House and the country will take note that the "virtual elimination" of subsidies as proposed by, at any rate, some hon. Members opposite, would add 13 points to the Retail Price Index, whereas our combined proposals on beer and foodstuffs, matches and other small items, will only mean a rise of 1½ points.
Might I interrupt to tell the hon. Gentleman that he is completely ignoring, deliberately ignoring, the consequential cuts in taxation which I also indicated?
I was describing the effect of the noble Lord's proposals on food prices. I shall come to the other point later.Nevertheless, I am equally convinced that our budgetary situation will get out of hand altogether, and inflation set in again, if rising food consumption were to push up this subsidy bill to the extent of another £100 million a year or so on top of all our other commitments. What I think all the commentators before the Budget failed to realise was the fact that rising food costs and supplies, both at home and abroad, now confront us with a new dilemma. We have never yet decided to cut down or restrict our food import programmes because of the increasing subsidy burden on the Budget. But this dilemma is now forced upon us, for this reason. Not merely are food production costs, at home as well as abroad, still rising but, apart from meat, in very many cases consumption is now increasing. Indeed, ironically enough, it is our very success in obtaining increased supplies which has forced this dilemma upon us. Of the prospective increase in the subsidy bill this year of £83 million—on the basis of present prices—from £485 million to £568 million, some £53 million would have been due to increased prices, but £30 million would have been due to larger supplies. Consumption is now running at a higher level—though some people may have forgotten this—in the case of eggs, milk, cheese, butter, margarine and cooking fat than it was a year ago. Faced with that dilemma, of either permitting higher consumption with higher prices, or enforcing lower consumption at existing prices, we have decided in favour of higher consumption. Surely, that is right. Surely, it is right to allow the public to consume more food at higher prices if they want to do so. I would ask the Committee, since there is still some misunderstanding about this, to notice exactly what our proposals are. Of course, it is entirely untrue that this year's effective subsidy bill for food is to be lower than last year. On the contrary, it will be higher. Last year the total bill was £485 million, of which £33 million represented a purely bookkeeping entry by which, on tea and sugar, the tax cancelled out the subsidy. Therefore, the real rate of subsidy was £452 million. This year, on the same basis, the real rate of subsidy will be £465 million, or £13 million more, as the right hon. Gentleman the senior Burgess for Oxford University (Sir A. Salter) correctly pointed out last week. The £465 million is the actual amount going this year into the household each week in relief of food prices and the cost of living. It will still be about 3s. 6d. per head per week, and it will be slightly higher this year than last. What we have done is this: we have set a limit to the increase in the subsidy bill, but we have set it at a level higher than last year and at the maximum level yet reached. Obviously, we all regret that any rise in any price of food should be inevitable. Indeed, that is why we tried to avoid it so hard for so long. Nevertheless, I ask the Committee to see this increase in perspective. It is 1½ points on the Retail Price Index, as compared with the 13 points or so which would result from the virtual elimination of the subsidies, which some hon. Members opposite have advocated. It is 4d. per head per week on the basis of current rations, and that compares with the 3s. 6d. per week which will still be paid. I agree that even this is a serious matter to many households. But is it really catastrophic—coming as it does on top of all the benefits and tax reliefs given to the ordinary household in successive Budgets since the war, some of which were described by my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) in another maiden speech yesterday, and including incidentally the substantial reductions in Purchase Tax which we made a year ago? In the last 18 months an immense service has been performed by the organised labour movement and, if I may say so, by trade union leaders in particular, to the whole of this country by their support of the stabilisation policy. The magnitude of that service, and the strain it has placed on the persons responsible, has perhaps even now hardly been realised. After all, they have been asked for patriotic reasons to do almost exactly the reverse of what would normally be expected of them. We should all join in a tribute to them. But when I was listening last week to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Central Hull (Captain Hewitson) I could not help asking myself whether it would really be worth while for the sake of 11 points on the Retail Price Index to imperil all these immense gains. All that he said would have been justified if our proposal was that of sweeping away the subsidies altogether and precipitating this 13 points increase. I ask him in all earnestness, is it right or wise, or setting these things in their true perspective, to imperil all this for the sake of 1½ points rise in our proposals? If it is then agreed that we have to meet the rising expenditure on defence and social services, including the continued bill of £465 million on food subsidies, and if the time has not yet come for Budget deficits, I am afraid it follows that there is very little scope for tax reductions.
Accepting most of the hon. Gentleman's reasoning up to now, is it not a fact that when the policy of restraint was adopted and loyally carried out, a promise was given that the cost of living would be brought down?
A promise was given that the Government would do everything they could to bring down the cost of living. That promise has been carried out, and it has involved among other things the decision I have described to allow the subsidy bill slightly to rise. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Anderson) told us yesterday that he would have tried to
But there can be little doubt that a heavy reduction in Purchase Tax and food subsidies simultaneously would tend to shift a heavier burden of taxation on to most wage-earning households. This is because Purchase Tax, after last year's concessions, is far more a tax on less essentials, including luxuries, than seems to be realised. Of course, many common household goods which all sections of the people have to buy, are taxed, though at the lower rate. But the bulk of the actual Purchase Tax revenue is in fact raised from the following main items: Non-utility clothing, non-utility footwear, non-utility furniture, motor vehicles, stationery and toilet preparations. These items account for over £140 million, or about half the whole Purchase Tax revenue. At the same time, a much higher percentage of clothing and footwear production is now utility, and therefore free of Purchase Tax, than seems to be realised. For instance, of the present output of woven woollen garments, some 73 per cent. is now utility; of woven cotton garments, 68 per cent.; of knitted garments, 95 per cent., and of boots and shoes 87 per cent. Thus, it is quite clear that the Purchase Tax is not, to the extent that people seem to think, a tax on the ordinary wage-earning household. Naturally, there has been a good deal said in this Debate on the fundamental question whether the country's economy can work with about 40 per cent. of the national income passing through the hands of the Government and other public authorities, and with direct taxation at its present level. The hon. Member for Flint (Mr. Birch) last night told us that these huge transfers were paralysing and ossifying our economy. I have noticed, however, that demands from hon. Members opposite for lower expenditure and lower taxation in this Debate have been remarkably restrained; although the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) did tell us, though without much apparent conviction, that taxation was too high. The evidence of the last few years seems to me, in fact, to suggest that our economy can sustain this measure of redistributive taxation much more easily than we had thought. In the first place, surely there is a fallacy in the argument that the system necessarily cannot sustain a transfer through public authorities of 40 per cent. of the national income. After all, if the health services are transferred from private account to public account, of course, that percentage goes up. But there is not necessarily any change in the proportion of its total resources which the community is devoting to the health services, or, therefore, in its ability to sustain them. All that has happened is that we decide how much medical attention each individual in the community gets according to his needs and not according to his purse. Secondly, as I see it, the practical evidence does not support the Tory view that present direct taxation is crippling enterprise and production. Indeed, the Tories have always said this and have always been wrong. My hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benson) quoted last week a dictum of Sir Stafford Northcote, and I have been reading the Budget Debates of 1907, in which Mr. Austen Chamberlain said:"make some substantial reduction in Purchase Tax, reflecting that reduction in action with regard to food subsidies."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th April, 1949; Vol. 463, c. 2486.]
In 1909, I notice that Mr. William Joynson-Hicks said that Income Tax of 1s. in the £—"Income Tax … as high as Is. in the … reacts directly upon the amount of employment for the people."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd April, 1907; Vol. 172, c. 1440.]
—whatever that means. No doubt the fact that the Tories were wrong about this in 1909 does not necessarily prove that they are wrong in 1949. I give them that. What impresses me is that, in the last 18 months, we have had higher direct taxation than ever before in the history of the country; and also higher production, higher exports and higher investment. If that is paralysis and ossification, let us have more of them. The right hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough argued that our export record in these last few months was largely achieved by thriving private enterprise. If his view is that private enterprise thrives best under a Labour Government, and with Income Tax and Profits Tax at their present levels, we do not quarrel with him. Although the present level of direct taxation does not seem, therefore, to be so very crippling, I notice that, even in this Debate, there is not much quarrel with the statement of my right hon. and learned Friend that, for the time, there is not much more hope for a redistribution of income by taxation."abolishes the reserve fund of the country." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th May, 1909; Vol V, c. 112.]
Walk round the West End.
I am coming to the West End, if my hon. Friend will wait a minute. What the hon. Member for Mile End (Mr. Piratin) failed to notice in his remarks was that, as the White Paper on the National Income shows, the share of the national income after direct taxation going to wages rose from 39 per cent. in 1938 to 48 per cent. in 1948, whereas the share going to profits, rent and interest fell from 34 per cent. to 28 per cent. However, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor said, though that seems to be true of income, it is far from true of property. The distribution of property in this country is still exceedingly unequal, and we, as a party who believe sincerely in the idea of a property-owning democracy, intend to distribute it more equally by taxation.There is not much evidence that the Death Duties over a long period have greatly effected as yet the distribution of property between the wage-earners and the property-owning sections of the community. That is no doubt because the forces of private capital accumulation, largely through company savings, have been working in the opposite direction all the time. Both receipts from Death Duties and the total value of the estates assessed to Death Duties have held up remarkably well over a long period of years, though there has been some shift, it is true, from the higher to the middle ranges of estates, which is perhaps due to the fact that the rates on those middle ranges have never been nearly as high as the rates so often quoted on the higher ranges. Much of the luxury spending which the working man certainly sees before his eyes—in the West End and elsewhere—comes in fact from the owners of inherited property living on their capital. All this suggests that there is quite a way to go yet in the redistribution of property by taxation. At present, be it noted, we are modestly taking only about £175 million a year in Death Duties out of the total assessed of £750 million. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Anderson) told us yesterday that he feared we were leaving no margin of taxable capacity in the case of Death Duties. Well, there is the margin between £175 million and £750 million.
Will the hon. Gentleman excuse me? What I said was that, if the Chancellor took the view that there was a margin of capacity, it ought, in the national interest, to be preserved.
I am pointing out that it is being preserved at present to the extent of the difference between £175 million and £750 million. We took one step forward last year in the re-distributive process with the Special Contribution, which turned out to be much more successful than we had hoped, and entirely belied the dire prophecies of hon. Members opposite about all the evil consequences which would follow. We have taken another step this year in raising the Death Duties which I notice that the party opposite, despite their theoretical belief in a property-owning democracy, tell us they are going to oppose. We have taken those steps, among other reasons, because we really believe in that democratic ideal, not merely in theory, but in practice.As my right hon. and learned Friend said, this is a "holdfast" Budget in which, as a matter of fact, the totals of both taxes and subsidies are nearly the same as last year. It is intended to hold fast the structure of social services, which we are proud to have built up—and proud, I may say, to have built up faster, as the right hon. Member for the Scottish Universities candidly told us yesterday, than he would have done. The Labour Government of 1931, quite frankly, got into difficulties because they failed to put a sound economic and financial foundation under the social services which they rightly introduced. Whatever we do, or do not do, we are not going to make that mistake again.
In the course of my remarks I shall take up many of the points made by the Economic Secretary. I thought that as the atmosphere in which this Budget had been received was rather chilly, I had better begin by taking out of the Economic Survey—because it is to that Survey that I shall chiefly address my remarks—some of the heartening features. I will try to keep away as far as I can from Bleak House and confine my attention to Great Expectations.Every hon. Member—and none more than those on this side of the Committee —is greatly heartened by the improved position shown by the country in 1948. That improvement is, first of all, an improvement in the balance of payments. During the last six months of 1948, we were in balance. Secondly, we are heartened by the forecast that we may reasonably expect to have an overall balance in 1949–50. Of course, we are all aware of the obdurate part of the problem, the dollar deficit which the Economic Survey quite rightly stresses in more than one place. But of all the encouraging news with regard to 1948, news which has surprised and indeed exhilarated me, the most important is the fact that our exports have surpassed the targets set for them in the previous economic White Paper. Twelve months ago I, personally, did not think it was possible even to reach the targets set down. I always said at that time that in my belief we could produce the necessary goods, but that I did not believe we could force those goods into the export market and at the same time maintain the prices overall which were necessary. It is very exhilarating that the demand has kept up to these figures, that production has been sufficient, and that the forecast has been exceeded. I think it is going to be very much more difficult to make even the modest increase which the White Paper mentions; I think it is going to be very difficult even to maintain the level at which we were in 1948. There is another matter, the fourth. which I think is a cause of congratulation with regard to 1948, and one which cannot be stressed often enough—the contribution which Great Britain has made in a time of great stress to the recovery of Europe. We can remind ourselves and others of what we have done in this matter in a very simple way. It is true to say that the exports from this country for which we have not been paid are about equal, taking the official rates of exchange, to the amount of imports for which we have not had to pay. This is a very good bolster to our self-respect. It is true, of course, that the imports for which we have not paid are, in the main, dollar imports, and that the exports for which we have not been paid are sterling exports. Nevertheless, whether we express them in one currency or another, they are goods and services which we have supplied. The Economic Survey is not ungenerous on this subject. It says:
I hope that hon. Members opposite will not think it ungenerous of me if I say that this remarkable achievement has been due, with the exception of comparatively small exports of coal, entirely to the efforts made, no doubt with Government help, by the private sector of industry. It is very necessary to examine why these good results for the year 1948, have, in the main, been achieved. I hope that hon. Members opposite will acquit me of trying to make party points on this subject. I am engaged upon a more austere task because I think that we must recognise—and the President of the Board of Trade has on more than one occasion assented to this proposition—that the state of demand is entirely abnormal. It is almost unique in our commercial or industrial history. There are, again, four main reasons why this is so. I put the most obvious at the head of the list. It is the vast destruction during the war of plant and machinery, of public services, such as docks, harbours, bridges, and railways, and, perhaps above all, the destruction of dwelling-houses for those who have to go to work. This is the first great void which has to be filled. Secondly, there are the seven years during which our plant and machinery have been worked to death, and during which no replacements, except those which were absolutely urgent, have been undertaken. It is a curious commentary upon our century that the destruction from the second cause is generally conceded to be greater than that from the first. I think it is Mr. Paish, a well-known economist, who estimates the unrepaired damage in this country resulting from enemy action at £2,000 million, and that from insufficient maintenance and obsolescence of plant at £3,000 million. The third cause of this abnormal demand is the distortion of the European economy. For example, up to quite recently the coal production of the Ruhr and Saar was a very small proportion of what it was before the war. This is another cause which, partly from the lack of coal itself, and partly from the lack of power to drive the industries of Western Europe, has created another void which has to be filled. The fourth reason—and one to which I think insufficient attention has been given—is stockpiling by the United States for strategic purposes. It must be quite obvious to every hon. Member that the United States does not stockpile materials for strategic purposes if she is satisfied that she has them in sufficient quantities. She concentrates, of course, upon those materials of which she thinks she is short, and possibly on those materials which she thinks may have to be carried across the perilous seas in case of war. So here is another and abnormal source of export demand. It is an artificial source, and we should recognise the fact that when the stockpiling programme of the United States is completed there will be a very noticeable falling off in the demand for certain primary—and particular primary—materials. This is a sort of second tier of abnormal demand. I think we must be wide-eyed about this matter and recognise that these four major causes are the reasons to which in the main—and I want to be perfectly fair; in the main—we must attribute the full employment which we are now enjoying in this country—and long may it continue—and, secondly, the buoyancy of our exports. A void on this scale has never been seen in the commercial and industrial history of the world, and we are still filling it. Twelve months ago I thought, particularly for consumer goods, that there were signs that the demand was drying up. I was wrong, and I hope very much to be wrong again, but I must say that with the general fall I anticipate in food prices and many other red lights showing, I think we have to take warning that this state of abnormal demand may gradually be assuming more normal dimensions. We must look at this without any pride and contradict the belief that we have found any new economic remedy for these troubles or that in the main their solution has been due to anything the Government—"A remarkable achievement for which great credit is due to all working in British industry. A more modest rise is expected in 1949."
The right hon. Gentleman is endeavouring to be fair, so will he, so far as the maintenance of a high level of internal demand is concerned, add a fifth point, namely, the extensive redistribution of income which has maintained internal demand to an extraordinary degree compared with the collapse which took place two years after the 1914–18 war?
That is quite a different point. If the hon. Member is referring to domestic employment, in parenthesis I may add that measures upon which I believe hon. Members of all parties are agreed for the maintenance of employment would involve the reduction in capital expenditure now so that there might be an unspent amount to take advantage of lower prices and restore employment later. To return to my original point, I think the Economic Survey agrees with the general point of view which I have been adopting. I think it expresses it in very candid terms, but certainly not grammatical terms, and I do not think the hand of the Chancellor can be detected in that. It says, on page 22:
I do not think it means that the forecast is a considerable achievement, but I think I understand what it does mean. I think there are here very sound reasons for satisfaction, but I must pass from these heartening matters to matters which are less agreeable to the national pride."The approximate balance which is now forecast for 1948–49 is partly the result of a number of exceptional circumstances, though it represents in itself a very considerable achievement."
The right hon. Gentleman has not been so very encouraging so far.
I think so. I turn to matters which are less agreeable to the national pride. The Economic Survey is an extremely candid commentary on the subject. It is not a subject on which hon. Members opposite, or the Socialist Press, are particularly vociferous; but the Economic Survey makes no bones about it at all. The Economic Survey will not have a very wide circulation—in short, it is caviar to the general—but it has this advantage, that if the truth is unvarnished in its pages, at least it has a good chance of passing unnoticed. It is for that reason that I want to refer to these matters. I should like to pick out one or two sentences from the Economic Survey. One has hardly gone 12 lines before the Economic Survey says:
On page 5 it says:"When the year ended the chance of continued recovery was seen to be dependent upon foreign assistance."
Later on, it says:"This deficit, which is now the worst danger spot in the economy, was met in the first half of the year largely by drawings on the United States and Canadian credits, and later by receipts of £170 million under E.R.P. As a result of these transactions, there was only a small fall in our gold and dollar holdings during the year."
that is, instead of the higher figure of the previous year. I think we are entitled to congratulate ourselves upon our achievement, but we must not fall into the error committed by the Economic Secretary in omitting from our remarks all mention of the foreign aid we have received. The Chancellor himself is not guilty of these omissions. The sums we have received since the war are massive. The United States has given us a loan of £1,100 million, Canada £248 million, Australia a gift of £43 million, New Zealand a gift of £10 million, South Africa a gold loan of £80 million—and these make up, according to my arithmetic, £1,481 million. In addition to that, we have had Marshall Aid of £313 million, a total of £1,794 million. That is a fairly large sum of money for the Economic Secretary to omit from his speech. Last night we listened to a speech from the hon. and gallant Member for North Portsmouth (Major Bruce)—I am sorry he is not in his place—and he made a statistical speech, succeeding at the end of his remarks in persuading himself that we have created what he called an investment State, but of course there was again no mention whatever of the foreign aid which has made the investment State possible. The whole of his speech need not have been made had he mentioned this one fact. I prefer him in his more abusive mood. Also, I should make some reference to the popular version of the Economic Survey."It brings out clearly the increasingly important part played by E.R.P. aid in 1948 … For the year 1949–50 estimates were tabled at the O.E.E.C … that on certain assumptions we should be able to carry out our programme with E.R.P. aid of 940 million dollars. …"
Before the right hon. Member leaves that point—and what I am about to say applies equally to same spokesmen from our Front Bench—is it not a fact that, in view of the fact that Britain strained herself, as she did, during two world wars, that the world is really indebted to the tremendous sacrifices made by the British people?
I entirely agree with the general line which the hon. Member is adopting. I do not for one moment suggest that we do not deserve help. On the contrary, I think we do deserve it in full, but I do not want to be drawn into this particular controversy because I am trying, without being offensive, to point out that we have received massive aid from abroad after this World War and that we received none after the First World War, and yet it is customary—
The hon. Lady must first permit me to finish my sentence. I think that in Socialist propaganda it is customary—and I am not putting it too highly—to compare our situation, say, in 1946 with what it was in 1919.
Is it not the case that, so far from having received no aid whatever, the financial accounts in the Library show that there is still outstanding a balance to the United States of £897,534,246 which we have never paid and which we borrowed for the First World War?
The hon. Lady is falling into a very common error, and that is the difference between goods which are received and not paid for and loans in cash which are received. It is common knowledge that a large number of the weapons and raw materials which we received from America during the 1914–18 war and fired off against the enemy have not been paid for, but the sums I am talking about are entirely new money which has been put at the disposal of His Majesty's Government by the United States. Now I want to get on to the agreeable subject—
The right hon. Gentleman is putting the matter so fairly that I just wanted to suggest to him that he is leaving out inadvertently one very serious point. He says that after the first World War we received no financial income from America, whereas after the last war we did, and that this is new money. That is how he distinguishes it from an unpaid loan. However, is that quite true? [HON. MEMBERS: "Speech."] I am coming to the point now. Surely, after the First World War we were still in receipt of a large income from capital investments abroad, which were sacrificed in the first years of the last war.
The hon. Gentleman has taken more than his usual share of our indulgence. Of course, it is common knowledge that we had investments abroad. Now I want to refer for a moment to the popular version of the Economic Survey. I shall do so in only a few words. It does not contain any photograph of a royal baby, or any photograph of a slum area cleared by a Tory Administration. It merely includes a photograph of a pit sunk by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Fylde (Colonel Lancaster) 12 years before the mines were nationalised. My hon. and gallant Friend, with the urbanity and politeness for which he is justly renowned, referred to this as a slipshod piece of Socialist propaganda. It seems to me that these mistakes are becoming so frequent that they are almost falling out of the category of mistakes and into the category of habit.
I think that the right hon. Gentleman will find that the mistake was made by the "Daily Telegraph" in wrongly quoting the Survey. It was never suggested that that pit in question had been built by the National Coal Board, or anything else. It was put in as an example of the kind of capital works that have been done in this country over the past years.