Local Government (Scotland) Bill
Order for Second Reading read.
Bill referred to the Scottish Standing Committee.—[ Mr. McNeil.]
Exchequer And Audit Departments Bill
Order for Second Reading read.
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."The purpose of this short Bill is simply to place the Comptroller and Auditor-General in the same position as the established civil servant in two respects, namely salary and pension. I am sure it would not be the wish of the House that the Comptroller and Auditor-General, who is, of course, a servant of Parliament, should be put in a less favourable position in either of those respects than the great body of civil servants. The House will remember that the proposals of the Chorley Committee relating to the salaries of the higher civil service, although they were accepted in principle by the Government, were suspended temporarily after devaluation, during the period of what I might call "standstill" in relation to wages and salaries generally. But a pledge was given by the former Chancellor of the Exchequer in December, 1949, that that postponement of the increases in salary would not prejudice the pensions of any of those civil servants who might retire during that period. After the previous Chancellor's statement on wages and incomes last July, after which the absolute standstill came to an end and we returned to the policy of the White Paper as it had been in force before devaluation, the Government were bound to carry out the proposals of the Chorley Committee both in relation to salaries and pensions. Therefore, assuming that we would all wish the Comptroller and Auditor-General to be in the same situation as civil servants generally, we were bound to take action in relation to him. The House may ask why legislation is necessary in the case of the Comptroller and Auditor-General whereas, of course, the salary changes for civil servants were made simply by administrative action. The reason is that, as the House knows, the Comptroller and Auditor-General is in a special position which goes back as far as the Exchequer and Audit Departments Act, 1866. He is, of course, directly responsible to Parliament and not to the Executive for the exercise of his statutory functions, and for that reason his salary has always been paid out of the Consolidated Fund and is not borne on a Vote. Because of that special position, which I think we all recognise to be of great constitutional importance, legislation is necessary to make this comparatively small change. The Bill before the House does three simple things. First of all, in Clause 1 (1), it fixes the salary of the Comptroller and Auditor-General at £4,500 a year, which is, of course, the salary of Permanent Secretaries after the Chorley increases now coming into force. Secondly, it provides that though that salary shall, in effect, operate from October, 1950—that is to say, from the date from which the Chorley proposals have begun to operate—it shall be regarded as having come into force for the purpose of pension from October, 1949. That, of course, places the Comptroller and Auditor-General, in the matter of pension, in the same situation as other civil servants. Thirdly, the Bill gives the Comptroller and Auditor-General a choice in the matter of pensions between two alternatives, one of which dates from the original Act of 1866, which I have mentioned, and the other is, in effect, simply the existing pension open to ordinary established civil servants. That is the whole provision and purpose of this Bill, and I hope the House will give its approval to it.
As I have been Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee during recent Sessions, I have naturally a special interest in this Bill and some knowledge of its subject matter, because it falls to the lot of the Chairman of that Committee to have the closest association with the Comptroller and Auditor-General. As the Financial Secretary to the Treasury told us, the Comptroller is a servant, and a very distinguished servant of this House. His salary is charged upon the Consolidated Fund and his independence is thereby ensured. Nor can he be removed except under conditions similar to those which apply to His Majesty's judges. It is, of course, entirely right—as I am sure the House will agree—that his salary should be adjusted in accordance with the circumstances which have been explained so clearly by the Financial Secretary. We on this side of the House will, of course, gladly support the Bill.
I, too, very much welcome this Bill, but I do not think it goes far enough. I ask the indulgence of the House for a few minutes to consider whether the figure in the Bill is enough for the purpose. I am glad that the Financial Secretary has made the point that the Comptroller and Auditor-General is a servant, not of the Executive, but of this House. It is very important, that it should be recognised by the House that we here paying directly our own servant, and that the figure has nothing to do with the Government. Moreover, we are in order, because of the terms of the Financial Resolution, which I am glad to see has been drawn in the widest terms, in discussing whether we are paying our servant enough and in carrying the desirable amendment.Normally we recruit our Comptroller and Auditor-General from the Civil Service. After all, the servants of the Executive are the poachers who know all the dodges of getting away with spending our money, and if we want a really good gamekeeper to keep them in order, we are quite right to go to the Civil Service as a recruiting ground for such capable servants of the House. The Financial Secretary has mentioned the Chorley Committee. It is perfectly clear that there must be some degree of conformity between what is being paid to the poachers and what is to be paid to the gamekeepers but we are free within reason to choose our own figure. I would point out, moreover, that the Chorley Committee clearly recognised that the Civil Service, as a whole, is very much underpaid. If Members will turn to Appendix II, they will see the number of people to whom the Executive are paying £8,500, in addition to expenses. A great number of people are receiving figures about £5,000, including all the full-time members of the National Coal Board. There is a very long and impressive list of people paid, at the instigation of the Executive, a sum very much higher than the amount proposed in this Bill. Personally, I think that the Chorley Committee, having accepted the view that all civil servants were underpaid, in fact "quantified"—to use the word that Sir Stafford Cripps so often used in this House—the corrective action insufficiently. They have recommended an increase in the salary of a Permanent Secretary of a major Department from £3,500 to £4,500, which was not sufficient to be in keeping, in my opinion, with the findings and arguments which led up to their recommendation. If I am to claim that we are proposing in this Bill to underpay one of our servants, then I must justify that claim. I justify it, partly on the incidence of tax, and partly on the depreciation of the £. Let us suppose that such a man enters the Civil Service in the beginning, probably having gone to one of the major universities, having decided that he wants to work during his life. He may therefore be reasonably supposed to have an unearned income of say £550 a year. Instead of sitting down and doing nothing in life on £550, he decides to enter what is one of the finest vocations in the world—to serve the country in one of the finest, if not the finest, civil services that can be found anywhere. Let us suppose that at the end of a very successful career he becomes Auditor-General and let us consider what his take-home pay has been in recent years. I have worked my figures out on the assumption that he has an unearned income of £550, and that he is a married man with two children. That brings him to the stage of just paying 9s. in the £. The comparison is that in 1910 out of a salary of £2,000, he would retain £1,925 take-home pay. In 1949, before the Chorley Committee's recommendations were given effect to, he would retain a take-home pay of £1,825 out of an income of £3,500. Even under the proposal in this Bill, of £4,500 he will take home only £2,161. I think the Financial Secretary will accept the fact that, taking the £ in 1910 as having a purchasing power of 20s., it is now worth 8s. 6d. If we compare what the Comptroller and Auditor-General was getting in 1910, when the £ was worth 20s., he got £1,925, out of the £1,925 take-home pay. But from his £1,825 of 1949 he got a 1910 purchasing power of only £775 and he will get, even after the increase in this Bill, only £918. I give notice to the Financial Secretary that I intend to put down an Amendment to ensure that the Comptroller and Auditor-General shall be no worse off than in 1910 and that his salary shall be put on a sliding scale so that if the pay of a Permanent Secretary of one of the major Departments should go up, it will not require an Act of Parliament to keep the salary of the Comptroller and Auditor-General in step with it. I ask the House whether we cannot pay our servants adequately, even if we cannot at least make the salary of the Comptroller and Auditor-General comparable with the salary he received in 1910. May I ask the Financial Secretary to give us any reason why we should not do so, since the Comptroller and Auditor-General is not his servant but ours?
I speak again, of course, by leave of the House. The hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Pitman) has adduced an interesting argument for raising the salary of Ministers, or any other member of that small class of persons who receive the same income as in 1910. He has proved that an income of £2,000 or £3,000 a year is, after taxation, worth rather less now than in 1910, but that has not any special relevance to the case of the Comptroller and Auditor-General. The reason why we have selected this figure is not due to any assessment of the relative value of the gamekeeper or the poachers, but simply that we have followed the precedent that the Comptroller and Auditor-General shall have the same salary as Permanent Secretaries.
The Financial Secretary has omitted the fact that we are paying £8,500 to people who are not servants of the House, and have not this great responsibility to watch enormous expenditure.
Question put, and agreed to.
Bill read a Second time.
Committed to a Committee of the whole House. Committee Tomorrow.—[ Mr. Collindridge.]
Exchequer And Audit Departments Money
Considered in Committee of the whole House under Standing Order No. 84 (Money Committees).—[ King's Recommendation signified.]
[Major MILNER in the Chair]
That, for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to make further provision as to the salary and superannuation of the Comptroller and Auditor General, it is expedient to authorise the charging on and issuing out of the Consolidated Fund, and the payment out of moneys provided by Parliament, of any sums required to be so charged and issued or paid under any provision of the said Act.—[Mr. D. Jay.]
Resolution to be reported Tomorrow.
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."This Bill makes two small Amendments to Civil Service pension arrangements but they are unrelated to one another. One of them arises out of the Chorley proposals of which I spoke just now, and relates to the gratuities of un-established civil servants. It involves no change in superannuation policy. As I explained on the previous Bill, according to the pledge given by the former Chancellor of the Exchequer the established civil servants are to receive pensions as if the Chorley increases in salary had operated from October, 1949, instead of October, 1950. In practice that is carried out by the device of declaring formally a higher salary but making a temporary abatement of that salary for the purposes of Section 13 of the 1935 Act. That Act, however, does not apply to all classes of public servants, firstly, unestablished civil servants, and, secondly, a small group of Supreme Court officers. In the case of unestablished civil servants the relevant Act is the Superannuation Act of 1949 the wording of which is not covered by the special definitions of the 1935 Act where there is an abatement of salary. Therefore, it is not open to the Government to use the procedure of an abatement of salary. This is put right by Clause 1 of the present Bill, which carries out the pledge of the Chancellor, and provides that the gratuities that unestablished civil servants in the Chorley range will receive on retirement will be based on the higher level of salary which they would have had if the Chorley rates had come into force in October, 1949. In the case of the Supreme Court officers, although they are actual civil servants for the purposes of the Chorley rates of pay, they are not covered by the 1935 Act, and, accordingly, the Government cannot use the device of abatement of pay in order to see that they get the higher level of pension without further statutory provision. We, therefore, are making the necessary provision by Clause 1(2) of this Bill. The second minor change which is made by this Bill affects reconstruction entrants into the Civil Service over the last few years. The House will remember that there were various special schemes after 1945, by which those who had served in the Forces between 1939 and the end of the war might enter the Civil Service and become established. It was provided that for the purposes of their eventual pension, they could count the whole of their service in the Armed Forces after September, 1939, as if it were un-established civil service. That gives them, of course, the right to certain additional superannuation. However, it was necessary in the 1946 Act for the Treasury to specify some termination for the period during which that war service might be reckoned. This was done in a Statutory Instrument in June this year, which laid down 30th June, 1950, as the final date. The reason for terminating the period was that the scheme was naturally not intended to apply to National Service men who did National Service since the war and then went into the Civil Service. However, the effect of that order, would have been that a small number of persons who did reconstruction competition examinations and subsequently became established after 30th June, would be denied quite unfairly from the right to count their forces service since 1939 for pension purposes. Therefore. Clause 2 of this Bill allows the reconstruction entrant to count that service in exactly the same way as if he entered the service before the termination order was made. That is the very minor and modest purpose of this Bill, and I hope it will have the approval of this House.
I do not know whether you, Mr. Speaker, have ever picked up a newspaper or magazine and started to read a serial story in the middle, but if you have you may have a similar experience in taking up this Superannuation Bill. Superannuation Bills have been going through this House for a long time, since 1834, at any rate, and unless one is familiar with them they are extremely difficult to understand. However, the Financial Secretary with his usual clarity has done his very best in explaining to the House the object of this Measure. In view of the fact that we on this side of the House do not criticise what he said, and that the cost to be borne upon the Exchequer is very small indeed. I have no hesitation in commending the Bill to the House.
I should like to support what has been said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn, West (Mr. Assheton). The points in this Bill are quite minor, but they are important as showing our interest in the Civil Service, a body of people on whom the fortunes of this country so much depend, especially since 1945. We welcome in particular Clause 2 of this Bill, because in the Superannuation Bill of last year we persuaded the Government after some argument to take into consideration certain war service which up to that time they had not considered. This latter point is of particular importance at this moment when heads of Departments in the service see a reduction owing to the last election in nationalisation legislation, and therefore, their hopes of nice jobs in nationalised industries after their Civil Service days somewhat reduced.
Question put, and agreed to.
Bill read a Second time.
Committed to a Committee of the whole House. Committee Tomorrow.—[ Mr. Collindridge.]
Considered in Committee of the whole House under Standing Order No. 84 (Money Committees).—[ King's Recommendation signified].
[Major MILNER in the Chair]
That, for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to provide for disregarding certain temporary abatements of salary in calculating gratuities under sections thirty-nine and forty of the Superannuation Act, 1949, and allowances and gratuities of officers mentioned in Part I of the Third Schedule to the Supreme Court of Judicature (Consolidation) Act, 1925; and for reckoning as unestablished service certain service in the armed forces and other similar service performed by persons recruited to the Civil Service by reconstruction competitions after the thirtieth day of June, nineteen hundred and fifty, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of moneys provided by Parliament of any increase in the sums so payable which is attributable to provisions of the said Act—
(a) requiring temporary abatements of pay or salary made for the purpose of effecting economy in national expenditure to be disregarded, as from the first day of October, nineteen hundred and forty-nine, in calculating gratuities payable to persons employed in the Civil Service in an unestablished capacity and allowances or gratuities payable to or in respect of the holders of offices specified in Part I of the Third Schedule to the Supreme Court of Judicature (Consolidation) Act, 1925; (b) enabling persons entering the Civil Service after the thirtieth day of June, nineteen hundred and fifty, by means of reconstruction competitions to reckon as service in an unestablished capacity for the purposes of the Superannuation Acts previous service since the second day of September, nineteen hundred and thirty-nine, in the Armed Forces of the Crown and the other organisations referred to in section one of the Superannuation Act, 1946.—[Mr. Jay.]
Resolution to be reported Tomorrow.
Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Bill
Order for Second Reading read.
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."The right hon. Member for Blackburn, West (Mr. Assheton), compared the Bill that we have just disposed of to a serial story containing only the middle chapters. The Bill of which I am now moving the Second Reading is like the index to a book written in Arabic because it is very highly technical and it also, on the face of it, does not say very much. The justification for the Bill is that we hope in the near future to consolidate the law relating to dangerous drugs, a process which is very highly desirable. In order to do so, we must get the existing Acts into a condition in which they can be embodied without Amendment in a consolidating Measure. Therefore, the Bill is highly technical and rather dull, but I hope it is correspondingly free from any party controversy, as it makes no substantive change in the existing law. The main difficulty which it seeks to resolve arises from the establishment of the Northern Ireland Parliament. The original Dangerous Drugs Act was passed before the Parliament of Northern Ireland was set up, and consequently applied, and still applies, to the whole of the United Kingdom. Shortly after it had been passed, the Parliament of Northern Ireland was set up and was empowered to deal with all dangerous drugs questions which did not relate to matters expressly reserved to the Imperial Parliament by the Government of Ireland Act. Since then, it has been customary for the Imperial Parliament to legislate for Northern Ireland on dangerous drugs only with respect to those reserved matters. In regard to transferred matters, the Parliament of Northern Ireland has enacted measures designed to correspond with our later Dangerous Drugs Acts, and in theory the law should be the same in Great Britain and in Northern Ireland and it should be possible to consolidate separately the provisions in force in those parts of the United Kingdom respectively. In practice this is not so, because it is extremely uncertain how the provisions in the Imperial Acts concerning reserved matters apply in Northern Ireland and because the reserved and transferred matters are inextricably mixed. Anomalies have arisen, and the net result is rather like a jig-saw puzzle where some of the pieces do not quite fit into their neighbours. Clearly it would not be satisfactory to consolidate the United Kingdom Acts without first clearing up this confusion. The most certain way of achieving the desired end is to make a clean sweep of the Northern Ireland provisions and extend the whole of United Kingdom Acts to Northern Ireland. We have been in consultation with the Northern Ireland Government on this matter and they have agreed that the subject should be tackled in this way. It should be noted that the Bill makes no change in the constitutional position of Northern Ireland. The right of the Northern Ireland Parliament to legislate on dangerous drugs matters within their competence will be expressly preserved. Advantage is being taken of the opportunity afforded by the Bill to bring up to date the references in the Dangerous Drugs Acts to the League of Nations and its organs and officers, and to correct a drafting defect imported into those Acts by the Pharmacy and Poisons Act, 1933. If the Bill is passed, the clauses of the resulting Act will be gathered up in a consolidation measure as soon as it comes into force. Its brief life will, however, have made easier the consolidation of the Dangerous Drugs Acts which is badly needed to strengthen the hands of those engaged in the suppression of the illicit drug traffic. The United Kingdom has, to its great credit, long been a leading pioneer in the suppression of this traffic. This clarification of the law will, I hope, commend itself to all Members of the House. The Bill is a short, highly technical measure, which will not last very long and will be replaced by a new and more glorious Act in the resurrection that will take place.
We are grateful to the Home Secretary for the statement he has made on moving the Second Reading of the Bill. I am sure that the assurances he has given that the Government of Northern Ireland have been fully consulted and have agreed to the Measure will completely dispel any doubts or hesitation which hon. Members may have entertained upon a First Reading of the Bill, as to the constitutional questions involved. I am very satisfied with the statement that the right hon. Gentleman has made. I recognise the Bill as a harmless and necessary Measure, with a view to consolidation of the Dangerous Drugs Acts.
I want to ask one question. The Minister said that the Bill would have a very short life and that it was intended to facilitate a consolidating Measure "when the resurrection took place"—I think they were his words. My question is whether the proposed consolidation Measure will take place in this Session of Parliament. I ask the question personally, because I have been a Member of the Select Committee on Consolidation Measures and expect to be so again. I am wondering whether this is one of the Bills which we shall have to consider.
Perhaps I might say, by leave of the House, that I hope the consolidating Measure will be produced this Session. I am not sure whether it is a threat or a promise to the other side of the House to say that occasionally these Autumn Sessions are exceedingly brief, but, assuming that the Session runs anything like its normal time, I hope that the consolidation Measure will be put before the Joint Committee on which the hon. and gallant Member for South Angus (Captain Duncan) served last Session and hopes to serve again, with a view to the law being consolidated before this Session is prorogued.
Question put, and agreed to.
Bill read a Second time.
Committed to a Committee of the whole House. Committee Tomorrow.—[ Mr. Collindridge.]
Calf Rearing Schemes (Variation Of Payment)
I beg to move,
This Order does not contain anything new but it carries out the statement I made for my right hon. Friend on 29th June, when I said that it was our intention to carry on the calf subsidy scheme for a further year and to make payments for calves that were born after 30th September this year and before 1st October next year of £5 per head for steer calves, but no payment for heifer calves born during that period. This Order follows a number of other Orders since the Miscellaneous Provisions Act, which first gave us power to make this kind of arrangement, was passed. I do not think hon. Members would thank me for detaining the House now by going into a lengthy explanation and argument to show why it was thought to be reasonable. Our intention was to give as much impetus as we could in as short a space of time as possible to the development of our beef herds. It was thought that an injection of a payment of this kind for calves would give the incentive at the most useful point in growth and would encourage the development of the beef animal. As hon. Members will remember, the first Order made provision for payment for both steers and heifers at the rate of £4 for steers and £3 for heifers. The subsequent Order reduced the payment for heifers to £2 and increased the payment for steers to £5. Whereas at the beginning we had thought it necessary to give the utmost incentive for the production and rearing of all calves, after we had got over the first hurdle we began to switch the emphasis—as it has always been everybody's intention and desire to do—to steers, and so we weighted the payment in favour of steers. This new Order really follows that progression. It continues the scheme in its logical way, as was urged on both sides of the House during the discussion of the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act and previous Orders, and it puts the whole emphasis on steers and removes it altogether from heifers. The payments will not begin to be made until July, 1951, because we do not pay the subsidy until the calf is nine months' old in order to be quite sure about its being carried on to the age which makes the scheme at all sensible. The arguments which were used before were certainly all in favour of our weighting the scheme in the way we are now doing. 1 do not think that anything in our experience invalidates the view which some of us held at the beginning that it was right at that time to include heifers in the scheme. In a moment I will give the House some interesting figures which show that the increase in the number of heifer calves since the scheme began is significant and outstanding. It was obvious that some incentive of this kind was valuable for carrying on a number of heifer calves of particular types such as beef breeds, and low yielding dairy breeds, and a number of such types were carried on after the introduction of the scheme which were not carried on before we had it. In the last year the position has begun to change. We are still getting an increase in the number of heifers carried on, but the rate of increase is beginning to tail off rapidly. It looks as if we have achieved what we set out to do—to bump up the numbers—and it is now on steers that we want to put the emphasis. The House would be very wise to agree to the withdrawal of the subsidy for heifer calves at this stage; otherwise we shall find ourselves paying it only for the heifers which would be carried on in any case. The argument is sometimes used that we ought to retain it for all calves of the purely beef breeds or the crossbred animals. Our difficulty there is that it would be very difficult to distinguish in the field what were the honest results of that kind of union and what were not, and we think it far better to accept the evidence of the figures and remove it altogether at this stage. In previous Debates hon. Members have spoken about the standard which we require of our calves before they are accepted for subsidy and some anxiety has at times been expressed whether we were setting the standard a little too low. We have been gradually raising it, as was our intention, so that the rise in the standard has gone along with the rise in the numbers, and I am glad to be able to tell the House that there has been a considerable improvement in the standard of calves accepted for subsidy, and we now regard the general standard as, on the whole, satisfactory. For interest, I will give the House the figures of calves under one year. These are U.K. figures, although I am moving an Order which does not apply to Scotland.That the Draft Calf Rearing Scheme (England, Wales and Northern Ireland) (Variation of Payment) Order, 1950, a copy of which was laid before this House on 6th November, be approved.
Shall we be having the figures for Scotland?
If the hon. Member will contain himself, it will all come in due course in regular, logical progression. In 1947 the male calves under one year in the United Kingdom were 440,000. These are the 4th June figures.
Shall we have the figures for all the calves?
Yes, Sir. In 1948 the figure for male calves in the United Kingdom was 568,000, in 1949 it was 649,000 and in 1950 it was 712,000. We are, therefore, approaching a 75 per cent. increase over the figures for 1947 for male calves. Female calves numbered 1,302,000 in 1947, 1,451,000 in 1948 and 1,521,000 in 1949, and then began the tailing off and the figure was 1,542,000 in 1950. We have had a considerable increase there, and we got a considerable increase in the first two years. The totals for all calves under one year were 1,742,000 in 1947, 2,019,000 in 1948, 2,161,000 in 1949 and 2,253,000 in 1950.Therefore, I think the House will agree that the scheme has achieved its aim, that it has been about right in its incidence, emphasis and progression, and that we are doing the right thing now in carrying it on for another year and doing the right thing in paying the subsidy solely for male calves. I hope that, with that explanation, the House will feel that I have said enough to ask it to give the Order early and unanimous approval.
Breeders of beef cattle generally will welcome this modification in the calf rearing scheme and will agree with the Minister that the change has come at the right time. I do not say that that will apply entirely to certain breeders of cattle, such as the breeders of pedigree cattle, who will not benefit from the change to the same extent as others.I should like to refer to a matter which I and other hon. Members have raised from time to time in this House, the marking of the ears of calves under this scheme. Originally a ⅜-inch triangular punch was adopted for marking calves in the right ear, the same ear in which the breed marks are tattooed, but it was found that this triangular hole had a tendency to grow together again, and I believe there were certain cases in which claims for the subsidy were made a second time. As a result it was decided to adopt a larger punch, a circular punch of ½-inch diameter. This very large hole has led to ears being torn and to great cruelty and certainly to the spoiling of the appearance of pedigree cattle both for sale at home and for overseas markets.
If the hon. Gentleman will look at the Order he will find that this subject does not come within its scope.
Nevertheless, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I hope that as a result of this Order the Minister will review the size of punches and adopt a ⅜-inch round punch.
I hope that the Government will take particular note of what has been said in this regard by my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. Hopkinson), although I know it is a very difficult problem. By and large, there will be full agreement on this occasion that the Government have taken the right steps at this particular moment. We had a considerable debate during the Committee Stage of the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill on increasing the number of calves kept at their younger ages and various views were expressed as to what the subsidy should be in regard to both steers and heifers, and it is satisfactory to note that, by and large, the views expressed then have been carried out by the Government.I am glad that the Parliamentary Secretary took the opportunity today to give the House the figures of the increase in calves that has resulted from this Measure. It was intended that it should be an impetus to encourage agriculturalists in different parts of the country to keep more of their calves instead of sending them away at a week old to the slaughter house. Quite clearly, from the figures given us by the Parliamentary Secretary, that has achieved its purpose, and I think that the House will agree to pass this order in its present form.
The Parliamentary Secretary read out figures obtained from the 4th June return. He also mentioned the fact that the Government were satisfied with the standard of calf now being punched. The figures, however, did not disclose how many had been punched and how many had been refused. Calves which had been punched and are now two and three years old are coming into the market, and to look at some of them they should never have been punched at all because of the low quality. Can the hon. Gentleman give us the figures for this year to show the numbers that were refused punching on the grounds of low quality?
I am interested in the production of beasts, particularly those from beef strains. I have seen a number of heifers taken up to the killing grade which have done extremely well. One of the results of this order may be that breeders of that beef type of cattle will not be encouraged to bring those heifer calves up to killing maturity.The Minister said there was difficulty in tracing the parenthood of such calves at, say, nine months. I appreciate that, but has the following point been considered? There are a number of cases, particularly in the West country, where beef breeders carry their calves for nine months on the farm. When the official goes round to mark those heifers, it would be possible to mark home-bred calves, to learn the breeding of such heifers born on the farm. Indeed, the breeder might issue a certificate to that effect. I quite agree that a heifer which has passed through the market and through many hands is difficult to check, but I want to encourage the breeders of cattle to go on breeding and selling good heifers for fattening. We do not want to lose those, particularly if they have been well bred. Would the Minister reconsider that question?
The hon. Member for Heeley (Mr. P. Roberts) will be aware of previous discussions on this question when there were keen differences of opinion in all parts of the House whether a subsidy should be paid for a heifer calf or not. Year by year, therefore, we adopted what I felt was the general feeling of the House, reducing the amount paid for a heifer calf until finally in 1950 it finishes. There may be substance in the point of the hon. Member, but I am quite sure that had he suggested to the House this afternoon the continuation of a subsidy for heifer calves, we should have met with opposition.
I am not suggesting that those breeds which are primarily for milk should be subsidised because possibly milk subsidising has been overstressed. I want to help the beef breed.
The hon. Member is aware that there are certain breeds which have a dual purpose. It would require an army of people moving round the counties to decide which was a heifer for replacement in the dairy herd and which was a heifer going on for beef. I doubt if we could discriminate between such breeds although we, as well as the hon. Member, want to see as many heifer calves reared for beef as possible—certainly those that are not suitable for dairy herd replacement.The point raised by the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Hopkinson) is not within the confines of this order. As my Parliamentary Secretary said on a previous occasion, we have to do our best to hold the balance between the honest men and the crooks. However, I will gladly undertake to look at the question he has raised because neither my hon. Friend or myself, nor any of those associated with us, want to inflict unnecessary cruelty on calves or on any other member of the livestock family. The hon. and gallant Member for South Angus (Captain Duncan) asked for the number of calves that had been turned down. I cannot give that figure without notice, but I will undertake to see whether it is available, or can be obtained, and if so I will let him have it. I hope that the Order may now be approved.
Question put, and agreed to.
"That the Draft Calf Rearing Scheme (England, Wales and Northern Ireland) (Variation of Payment) Order, 1950, a copy of which was laid before this House on 6th November, be approved."
I beg to move,
The changes made in this Order are exactly similar to those made in the English Order which the House has just passed, and I do not think hon. Members would wish me to repeat the statement made by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture. However, when he was giving certain figures one or two hon. Gentlemen seemed to wish to have not only the figures for the United Kingdon but the Scottish figures of animals under one year old, and I may be able to help the House by giving those figures. Taking dairy cattle, the number of male dairy animals under one year has not altered much, but in 1948 we had 149,889 females under one year old. In 1950 the provisional September census figure is 152,000, which shows a little increase. One sees a bigger increase among the beef cattle under one year old. In 1948 there were 93,303 male animals. The provisional figure in the September census of this year is 122,000. The figure for female beef cattle under one year old is 72,064 in 1948, going up to 82,000 this year. I hope hon. Members w ill feel that the figures I have given are evidence of the success of this scheme, and that we may be enabled to continue it.That the Draft Calf Rearing Subsidy Scheme (Variation of Payment) (Scotland) Order, 1950, a copy of which was laid before this House on 7th November, be approved.
Before the hon. Gentleman sits down, can he say if the figures he has given are comparable with the figures given by his hon. Friend? The Joint Under-Secretary has referred to beef cattle and milk cattle, and those figures do not seem to me to be comparable with the figures given previously by the Parliamentary Secretary. It would be interesting to have figures that are strictly comparable because we are somewhat jealous in Scotland as to the progress we make in these matters, and we should like an opportunity of comparing them with the English figures.
I hope that the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland will give due heed to the point just raised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith). The hon. Gentleman did not show himself the same master of his subject this afternoon as did the Joint Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture in England and Wales.
I see that the hon. Gentleman is dissenting. He is entitled to his view, and I am entitled to mine. I do not think that he would have been prepared to give the figures at all, but for a little murmur on this side while the English Parliamentary Secretary was speaking. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Angus (Captain Duncan) asked whether the House was to have the opportunity of being given separate figures for Scotland, to which the reply of the English Parliamentary Secretary was, "Yes. If you wait, all this will come in due course."I think that the hon. Gentleman, however, was speaking a little too quickly, because it was quite evident that the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland was very unprepared. It is quite true that he attempted to read out a few figures, but he went very quickly, and I only hope that the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) was able to grasp them more comprehensively than I was. He certainly failed to impress me in the way I had hoped regarding the state of affairs in Scotland, and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Pollok must have been almost as much bewildered as myself. I offer no opposition or even criticism on the scheme, but I hope that there has been due consultation on it with those most competent to advise in Scotland, and particularly with the National Farmers' Union. I say that because there have been occasions, particularly in agricultural matters in Scotland, when the Scottish Office have had more or less to admit that they had not had that due consultation which many of use, particularly on this side of the House, who are, perhaps, rather more concerned with agricultural matters than hon. Members opposite——
—I felt that they ought to have had.I have a point to raise regarding the payment of the subsidies. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture in England and Wales said that no payments would fall due before, I think, July, 1951. As the Scottish Under-Secretary made no exception in favour of the Northern Kingdom, I take it that the date will be the same in both countries. I have no wish to strike any note of undue criticism, but I hope that there will be no unseemly delay in the making of these payments, because, as I think the Joint Under-Secretary of State will have to agree, there have been cases of considerable hold-up of payments to interested parties. Those of use who have been engaged in agriculture—and I would say this even if the hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans) were present—have had a good deal for which to be thankful in the years gone by in the way of assistance we have received from the Government, but there have been cases—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—I am being generous—but there have been cases, although perhaps not specifically in agriculture, where subsidies have not been paid with that celerity for which those qualified to receive them had hoped. I trust that those who are to benefit by the subsidies which we are discussing will not have to wait unduly long for them. I do not know what has happened in England and Wales, but—I say this with diffidence and not, I hope, disrespect—those who are responsible for Scottish agriculture at St. Andrew's House have sinned considerably in this respect.
I do not know whether the hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. McKie) was praising the Order or damning it. I am not quite sure what he was doing, but I agree with one of his first remarks, that he was entirely bewildered by the presentation of the picture.
The Joint Under-Secretary for Scotland gave the impression that he was quite unprepared to give the figures, and when he read through them he left me in a state of bewilderment.
All I can say is that I regret that the state of bewilderment has continued so long.I object to the aspersion which the hon. Member made on my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary, that he was less competent about the administration of agriculture in Scotland than was his colleague regarding England.
He had not read his brief.
The very fact that he produced those figures almost immediately was proof positive that they were available at the appropriate moment. From my experience of farmers and agriculturists in Scotland, no Under-Secretary for many years has been so acceptable to the farming community of Scotland as my hon. Friend has been. The National Farmers' Union in my constituency hold him in very great respect, a respect which will certainly not be diminished by the bewilderment of the hon. Member for Galloway.I only wish that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Sir W. Darling), had been present, because during the Debate on the Address he made the amazing proposition that he was in favour of the abolition of all subsidies. If the hon. Member had been here today, he would hardly have continued his opposition to this subsidy. I regret his absence, because I am certain that this subsidy will be very welcome to the constituency which I represent, and which is very interested in this Order. Really, what the hon. Member for Galloway should have done was to rise in his place and say:
Had he said that, it would have been the best speech he had ever delivered in the House of Commons."For what we are about to receive, may the Lord make us truly thankful."
The hon. and gallant Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) asked whether the figures I had given were strictly comparable with those given by my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture. My hon. Friend gave the figures for the United Kingdom as a whole. He did not give figures for England and Wales and for Scotland. [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. McKie) would contain himself, if he could overcome that state of bewilderment in which I found him when I came to the House, perhaps we could get on.My hon. Friend gave the figures of all animals under one year old in the United Kingdom. I broke up some figures which were given in the papers I had with me, and I gave the figures of dairy animals and beef animals under one year old. My hon. Friend the English Parliamentary Secretary was very wise to give the figure for the United Kingdom and not for Scotland and England and Wales. If the hon. Member for Galloway knew his part of the world a little better, he would know that a lot of young animals cross the Border in both directions. He forgets that the number of young animals under one year old which may be found on one side of the Border is not the number which will be maintained and fed on that side of the Border; neither does it represent the number of animals born on that side of the Border.
I am quite as well aware of that as the hon. Gentleman, but what I was anxious about was that the House should have the separate figures.
The hon. Gentleman is really complaining because I gave the separate figures for Scotland. If he wants the figure for England, Wales and Northern Ireland he should take the figure my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary gave and deduct the figure I gave for Scotland. If an addition sum is made of my figures of the dairy and beef animals, one would get the total, except that one would have to add 18,000 of the male animals under one year old. Then I think we would find that our figure is a comparable figure with the remaining figure for England, Wales and Northern Ireland.I was asked if there had been consultations with the National Farmers' Union. I do not know that in the five and a half years I have been at the Scottish Office I have ever had a complaint from the National Farmers' Union that I have not properly consulted them on these matters, but the hon. Member for Galloway imagines many of these things, and his imagination was once more disclosed to the House today when he said he thought there had been lack of consultation. He also thought there had been a considerable hold-up in the payments, but I am not aware of a considerable hold-up. If he is aware of such a hold-up, perhaps he will give me some particulars and I shall with pleasure inquire into the accusation he has made. I think the Order is one generally acceptable to the House and I hope we may now be able to accept it.
I would have preferred it, if the hon. Gentleman had been able to give the exactly comparable figures, but I understand that if 18,000 were added to the milk figures he gave, that is, if he gave the number of females and added 18,000 males of the milk series, we would get a figure comparable to that given by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture.
Question put, and agreed to.
That the Draft Calf Rearing Subsidy Scheme (Variation of Payment) (Scotland) Order, 1950, a copy of which was laid before this House on 7th November, be approved.
Agricultural Machines (Petrol Grants)
I beg to move,
This draft scheme is designed to give effect to the undertaking announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Budget Statement on 18th April last when he said we would put forward a Measure which would go far to offset the increased Petrol Duty in regard to certain agricultural operations. The House will recall that we discussed this matter at length on the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill during the summer and about the way effect should be given to the announcement. I shall try to deal with some of the points raised in regard to the scheme about what should be and should not be done. I do not propose once again to go over the general grounds of policy, except perhaps to remind the House of the broad lines of the arrangements then proposed. Grants were to be made with the object of offsetting, broadly, the additional cost of petrol for farming arising out of the increase of 9d. per gallon in the Petrol Duty. The grants were to be annual and to be related to particular machines. They were to be based on the average annual petrol consumption on agricultural operations. The particular kind of machine and agricultural operations for this purpose were not to include allied operations, such as road haulage, recreation grounds and matters of that kind. The draft scheme gives effect to the broad lines of policy announced. During the passage of the Bill, hon. Members expressed their desire that any scheme should be laid before the House for their final approval. I was ready to agree that that should be done and I assume that the House will expect me to explain the arrangements now worked out, which appear in this scheme. They are necessarily complicated, owing to the nature of the problem, but we have tried to make them as helpful and simple as we can for the farmer, as well as to provide proper safeguards for public funds. I think that on the whole a good workmanlike job has been done. In the working out of the details of the scheme we had the best technical advice available. We have had full consultation with the National Farmers' Union, two associations of agricultural contractors and the Agricultural Engineers' Association, representing machinery manufacturers. I should like to take the opportunity of expressing our indebtedness for the assistance they so freely gave. The Act left it to the scheme to determine the machines which would qualify for grant, the particular uses to which the machines should be put as a condition of grant, the amounts of the grants and any other qualifications for grant. As hon. Members will see, the Schedule to the scheme provides that information. The list of machines is a comprehensive one and covers not only machines using petrol as their primary fuel, but also tractors using it as a secondary fuel simply for starting purposes. The Schedule covers, in Part I, machines used normally throughout the year, and, in Part II, machines, such as harvest machinery, with only seasonal use. Machines covered are agricultural tractors of all kinds, horticultural tractors, certain four wheel drive vehicles, such as the Land Rover or the jeep and a variety of other vehicles, but not lorries or other purely transport vehicles. It also covers stationary engines used for driving milking machinery or pumping apparatus supplying water for livestock, or irrigating crops, or driving agricultural machinery in barns and so forth including, of course, combine harvesters, forage harvesters, pick-up balers, and so on. The grants are based on the average petrol consumption of each class of machine. It will be appreciated that there is a wide variation in the use of machines on different farms and for different agricultural purposes and there may be a wide variation in the actual petrol consumption. Any scheme of annual grants in this form must be based on the average annual petrol consumption and I repeat what I said on the Agricultural (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill: the scheme gives justice in full to the industry, but only a rough justice to those who, perhaps, use more petrol than they will be recouped for by the grant they will receive. But, to the extent that some farmers may get less than they may feel they are entitled to, other farmers will get more. The National Farmers' Union readily agree that in the circumstances it is the best subdivision of the money we could find. The machines have been grouped as far as possible into reasonably homogeneous categories. To make this as fair as possible the machines have been placed in groups according both to type and use of petrol. The latter will depend on the size of the engine and the use to which the machine is put each year. All these factors have been taken into account in arriving at the rate of grant. It will be seen from the Schedule that the grants range from £22 10s. for some tractors using petrol only, to 16s. for diesel tractors using only a small amount of petrol for starting purposes. Invariably however, and this is our experience throughout the country, the owner of a diesel also owns several other machines, and we do not, therefore, expect having to pay many small amounts to owners. Although there are about 500,000 machines which will qualify for grants, the number of farmers who wilt qualify will be considerably fewer than that. The total cost of the scheme for the current year we estimate to be about £2½ million. The Chancellor, in his Budget speech, gave an estimate of between £2½ million and £3 million a year. We believe, after careful consideration, that the lower figure will be the right one. It would, of course, increase as the number of machines in use increased, but that is inevitable. The grant year runs from 18th April, when the Chancellor made his statement. The main qualifications for grant are set out in Clause 3 of the draft scheme. They are ownership on 1st January of the machines specified, and regular use of such machines in agricultural operations. The applicant will be required to provide reasonable assurance that the machine has been used regularly, and the Minister—this is important—must be satisfied on this, and he can and will, use his discretion to ensure that the grant is not paid on machines that are not being used. For this purpose operations which would not be regarded as agricultural under the Agriculture Act, 1947, have been excluded. This means, as I explained in the summer, that machines used only on private gardens, pleasure grounds, etc., will not qualify. Nor will machines used only for forestry, road transport, land drainage or electricity generation. The estimate of the annual consumption of petrol is related to farm use, including haulage on the farm but not on the road. Machinery used for agricultural operations but also for excluded purposes will qualify for grant in virtue of their use for agricultural operations, provided, of course, that this is regarded as regular use within the meaning of Clause 3 of the scheme. It is my intention that the work involved in making payments shall be undertaken by the county agricultural executive committees.That the Draft Petrol-driven Agricultural Machines (Grants) Scheme, 1950, a copy of which was laid before this House on 1st November, be approved.
Will the use of machines for forestry purposes be taken into account? The Minister said that those used only for forestry purposes are not to qualify. I understand that, but if they are used extensively for agricultural purposes and for forestry purposes also, will that use be taken into account?
A machine partially used for forestry, but more generally used for agricultural purposes, can qualify for a grant if it comes within the meaning of the words in Clause 3. If it is used for forestry only, no grant will be paid.
I understand that, but will a machine's use for forestry purposes be taken into account?
If the hon. Member will look at the Schedule he will find that his question is answered there.For the convenience of farmers, a copy of the application form for grants will be sent during the last week of December to all occupiers of agricultural land. Others, such as agricultural contractors who may qualify for grant, will be able to obtain copies of this application form from the office of the county agricultural executive committee. No limit is set for the period of the grants, because it is not possible at present to foresee how long they may need to be continued. As I explained to the House at midsummer, the question of some alternative long-term solution is being considered. The Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, which made provision for these grants, also provided that the scheme shall be varied or revoked only by affirmative resolution. Therefore, if after a review it is decided to make any change, we can do so only by bringing another affirmative Resolution before the House. As I said earlier, we have, in working out the details of this scheme, had the benefit of the best technical advice available. We have had consultation, and, I ought to say, agreement, with the representatives of the various interests concerned. I accordingly commend this scheme to the House as perhaps the most workmanlike scheme that could be devised within the framework of our general intentions.
I think all hon. Members on this side of the House are very sorry this evening for the Minister of Agriculture in having to stand up and explain to the House this scheme, which he has managed to hatch six months after our discussion of 30th June, on the Second Reading of the Bill to which he referred. I say that because we then tried—I shall not repeat the arguments we used at that time—to impress on the Government at that time that the right way to deal with this problem was to deal with the amount of petrol which was used for agricultural machines. But the Minister, no doubt through consultations he had with others of his colleagues, was compelled to accept the view that he could not introduce a scheme on those lines.He had to introduce a scheme, as he explained to the House, whereby certain specific agricultural machinery was to be given a definite grant to make up for the increase in the Petrol Tax from 9d. to 1s. 6d. a gallon. We do not like this method any more today than we liked it then when we debated the Second Reading of the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act at the end of June. The Minister warned us, in his Second Reading speech then, that it would mean rough justice, but he hoped it would not be unreasonably rough justice. When we look at this scheme we are filled with dismay when we see the rough justice in the form of this Order. I say that because it tends, so far as one can see, to help the inefficient farmer more than the efficient farmer. Let me give the House one or two examples of this. The Minister has gone to great pains to see that if a farmer buys his tractor after a certain day in the grant year, his grant will be reduced. I refer to paragraph 4. It states:
If any farmer chooses to buy his tractor before 31st May in the grant year and does not use it at all before the winter ploughing, no one minds in the least, and he can apply for the full grant. I cannot see how the Minister can have any check to enable him to say that the tractor had not been used and would therefore not be entitled to the full grant. That must be inefficient. That is just one point. I turn to the Schedule. Has the Minister or anybody else ever heard farmers discussing tractors or agricultural machines—and they discuss them a great deal—when they intend to buy them, in terms of cubic capacity? Has anyone heard a farmer talking about a pick-up baler the engine of which has a cubic capacity of 910 c.c.; or a tractor with a piston displacement of 1,599 c.c.? Motorists who specialise may be conver- sant with this technical engineering jargon, but when the Minister says he has tried to make this scheme helpful and simple for the farmer, hon. Members on this side of the House are amazed that he should think that this kind of jargon will be understood very readily in the countryside. Perhaps the Minister is able to tell us exactly how many horsepower go to one c.c.; or how many c.c. go to one horsepower? The ordinary talk about the capacity of a tractor is in terms of horsepower and not c.c. I believe that there will be many hundreds of thousands of anomalies in this scheme and that by and large it will help the inefficient more than the efficient farmer. There is a tendency today for farmers to have more tractors than are really required on their holdings. Those farmers who have more tractors than they really want, and who run them at a low capacity, will benefit a great deal more than the very efficient, hard-working small farmer, who can afford only one tractor and who has to work it "all out" all the time. He will get only one grant, while the fellow with the same kind of acreage who is in a position to have two or three tractors will have two or three times more grant at the end of the year. We still believe and maintain that it would have been best to have worked out a scheme to achieve the object desired, to recoup the industry for the increase in the Petrol Duty, on the amount of petrol actually consumed by the individual farmer. However, as I said at the beginning of my remarks, the Minister of Agriculture was an unhappy man in having to introduce this scheme this evening. He was forced to do it in this way. He has had consultations with all those interested in the agricultural industry and the agricultural machinery manufacturers and by and large they have performed a very difficult task, and produced a scheme. It is necessary that this recoupment should be given to the industry, and we do not propose to oppose this scheme; but we would like to reassert once again that we believe the right way to do it would have been on the basis of the amount of petrol used in individual machines."Provided that where a new machine, being of a kind specified … was acquired after the thirty-first day of May of the grant year by the person making application for a grant, the grant shall be reduced as follows—
(a) by one-quarter for a machine acquired during June, July or August; (b) by one-half for a machine acquired during September, October, or November; and (c) by three-quarters for a machine acquired during December, January or February."
When the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act was under discussion in this House. I raised with the Minister on one or two occasions the question of one of the small branches of agriculture, namely the willow-growing industry. It is a small but important part of the agricultural industry. It provides the raw materials for baskets which, particularly in the event of an international crisis, would become extremely important having regard to the provision of panniers for the Royal Air Force, and so forth.I asked the Minister to what extent tractors, cultivators and sprayers used in the willow beds would be covered by this scheme when it was produced. I also asked him how it would affect stationary willow-stripping machines operated by the growers. I understood from what he told me at the time that tractors and cultivators would be covered and I think they are covered by this Order. But I am not clear about the stationary willow-stripping machines. I do not know whether they fall under category 4 (c) of Part 1 of the Schedule, and I should like to ask the Minister whether they are in fact covered. If they are not covered, it will be a great hardship to the operators of those machines who use petrol as opposed to paraffin, or in some cases electricity. I would make a further comment on what has been said by my hon. and gallant Friend. The amount given for these stationary machines, namely, £3 a year, represents, according to my calculations, the tax on some six-and-a-half gallons of petrol and that bears no relation whatever to what is in fact used.
Is the hon. Gentleman saying that six-and-a-half times the ninepenny increase equals £3?
That is what he said.
I would merely like to ask the Minister if he will give a reply to the particular question I asked him.
The benefits conferred by this Order may be rough, but I am sure they will be welcome so far as they go. I like the hon. and gallant Member for Richmond. Yorks (Sir T. Dugdale), have been a little confused by the quotations being made in cubic capacity. At first sight it would appear that the payments proposed for the smaller ranges are on the inadequate side. I do not know on what figures they were based or how far the National Farmers' Union agreed to them, but at first sight they seem to be fairly small.I am glad that the order allows for a considerable variety of agricultural implements, but I rather regret that implements for land drainage are explicitly excluded. I take it that equipment which has been hired out for agricultural purposes, as is the practise in some parts of Scotland, is eligible for these grants and that the equipment does not need to be the property of the farmer or smallholder. I appreciate the statement that if a tractor or other agricultural equipment is used for other purposes than purely agricultural purposes, that does not mean that it would be excluded from grant, because certainly in the crofting counties the tractor is a maid of all work; particularly the small tractors and iron horse, which does a great deal of work and may well use more petrol than is allowed for under this Order. They are in continual use by the farmer, crofter and small holder; but I take it from what the Minister said that these will receive the grant such as it is, that is given by this rather rough Order.
The range of machines, and the total amount which this Order sets out to recoup, is certainly right; but the justice of it would seem about the same as if the Front Bench Members of the Government were paid according to the space they took up on the Front Bench instead of by the usefulness of the work they do.
Are they not?
Perhaps they are, but it would seem that a right hon. Gentleman with a sylph-like figure would come out very badly. Within the terms of the Order it is the best one can do, but when we see that there are no fewer than 17 different types which the small farmer has to try to differentiate and find out whether they apply to him, one realises how very complicated it is.I noticed that the right hon. Gentleman said he is still considering a long- term scheme. I hope he will get rid of this one, which is really a ridiculous scheme to put before a small farmer. As the Minister knows there is to be about 80 per cent. of recoupment applying to tractors, and therefore there will be a very considerable disparity between one tractor user and another. The heavy tractor user will be out of pocket some £40 to £50 and the small tractor user by something of the order of about £10. Perhaps we shall find a small farmer with one tractor who gets recoupment of £20 when he should have £40 or £50, and a bigger farmer who perhaps does not make the same use of his tractor and who gets over-recoupment. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will press ahead with his long-term scheme which I hope will be on a gallonage basis.
I start by protesting at the short notice we have had of this debate. I raised this question last Thursday on business, because at that time this Order was not in the Vote Office. As far as I know, it has not been adequately discussed locally by the farmers.
I am sure that the hon. and gallant Gentleman does not want to be unfair. He raised this matter on Thursday in the House. Immediately I said to him that I would take steps to see that the Order was put in the Vote Office. It was put in the Vote Office within one hour. Therefore, it was in the Vote Office on Thursday.
I agree. My point is that it was not delivered to the Vote Office until Thursday. It did not appear to receive adequate publicity in the local Press, and there has been no opportunity for local discussion with my constituents who are farmers and users of petrol. I have been unable to discover whether they are satisfied or whether there are any questions which they would wish me to raise. I think that I am justified in making that protest. The time between the public notice of this Order and its discussion has been short.The former Chancellor of the Exchequer, in his Budget speech on 18th April, after telling us about the 9d. Petrol Tax increase said:
At that time Sir Stafford Cripps obviously contemplated that there would be justice as between each vehicle or machine, and that the 9d. increase would be recouped, as far as possible, on the basis of the average annual consumption of a machine. Now we have the most complicated Schedule with 17 different types, and the Minister described that as rough justice. It is extremely rough justice. In the short time at my disposal I have tried to make inquiries, particularly from the user of a Ferguson tractor, which is the main petrol-driven tractor. I got into touch with one farmer who uses three tractors. He keeps a close record of all the petrol which goes into each tractor. He told me that from October, 1948, to October, 1950, the average was 94½ gallons of petrol per tractor per month. He is what I would call a first-class, efficient farmer. My mathematics are not 100 per cent. good, and I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will check me if I am wrong. I have worked out that that is equivalent, if we are to have justice, to £42 6s., instead of £22 10s., which is the figure in the Schedule. I have not got a Ferguson petrol-driven tractor myself, and I am not prepared to say whether the farmer in question uses more petrol than that consumed by the average Ferguson tractor. I give the figures as an indication of the enormous disparity between the figure in the Schedule of £22 10s. and the figure based on this man's consumption, which is £42 6s. This is rough justice. What will be the effect on the manufacturers of the Ferguson tractor? If this becomes known they will have to stop making the petrol-driven tractor and make solely the T.V.O. tractor. It will be much cheaper to run the T.V.O. tractor which starts on petrol and runs on oil, even if one only gets £2 8s., rather than to lose by having to pay the difference between £22 10s. and £42 6s. for the petrol which one uses. I give those figures as I got them. They do not prove everything, but I think that they prove that the justice referred to by the right hon. Gentleman is very rough indeed. I reinforce the plea made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Sir T. Dugdale), that the Government should look at the matter again and see whether a fairer method can be introduced which would not upset the machinery manufacturers or cause a shift in the type of tractor used in agriculture."I propose therefore that an annual grant should be paid in respect of each such vehicle or machine based on a reasonable assumption as to the average amount of taxed fuel which each type consumes."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th April, 1950; Vol. 474, c. 76.]
What puzzles me about the reception given to this Order is that it should be described as rough justice. The hon. and gallant Member for Angus, South (Captain Duncan), has ventilated his grievances. It appeared that he had had a number of complaints. I represent a very large number of farmers in South Ayrshire; and if there is one section of the community which can be relied to convey its grievances to the Member for a constituency, it is the local branch of the National Farmers' Union. I am sure that if the Scots farmers had any grievances at all, they would by now have sent an elaborate memorandum to Members of Parliament. But I have not received one, and the farmers in my constituency usually send me detailed observations on any Measure, financial or otherwise, which affects their interests.
Has the Order yet reached Ayrshire?
That is a reflection on my constituents. The farmers of South Ayrshire are vigilant on matters affecting agriculture, and they are as keen about getting concessions for their tractors as the farmers of Yorkshire. I should like to ask what exactly we get out of this. I should like to know exactly what the concessions cost, and by how much the farmers of Scotland will benefit.
I disagree with what my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Angus, South (Captain Duncan) has been saying. I hope that does not denote a coming split in the Liberal Unionist group. It has been said that this Order will give rough justice. I welcome the tendency that possibly it will encourage farmers to go over to T.V.O. or diesel-driven tractors. But it is very hard on a man who has bought a petrol-driven tractor to lose £20 a year on petrol merely because, possibly, he bought the tractor when no other was available. One would have liked to have seen the Minister giving some financial encouragement to the farmer to go over to T.V.O. or diesel-burning tractors. The reasons are that this type of fuel is more easily transported, cheaper and more efficient than petrol; also it is very dangerous for farmers to store large quantities of petrol on their farms. I would urge the Minister, when he thinks of amending the scheme, to give more inducement to the farming community to get away from petrol for their tractors and to go in for T.V.O. and diesel oil.
I feel almost obliged to get up and say a word in defence of the Ferguson tractor, which is quite the most useful type of tractor. I should like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether there is any limitation in the vehicles mentioned in Part I of the Schedule, where reference is made to four-wheeled vehicles of 30 cwt. unladen weight, which applies to practically all road vehicles. There are certain vehicles like the jeep which can be driven either on two wheels or four, according to whether the gears are engaged or not, as opposed to the Land Rover, which is driven on all four wheels. I presume that vehicles capable of being driven and used on land by means of four wheels are included in this part of the Order. Will the Minister also say whether there is any limitation imposed on these vehicles by the type of licence which is taken out for them?
I am quite sure that farmers will readily welcome any relief that is given them today. I represent a far-flung constituency in Scotland, and I am sorry that the Minister could not have included in this Order farmers who live at great distances from their markets. Farmers in my constituency who live 30 or 40 miles from their local markets, and sometimes even greater distances, find that this 9d. per gallon increase is a great burden upon them. I should have liked the Order to include a concession to farmers who have to travel great distances to market. They have to travel over very rough roads and their running costs are extremely high already. This added burden will make them even higher. I am sorry that no concession could be given, were it only for a certain mileage once or twice a month, if it is thought that once each week is too often.The other point, upon which I have had some correspondence, is that, in a rural area such as that which I represent, veterinary surgeons, who play such a very great part in agricultural production, have vast areas to cover, and some concession to them would have been very welcome.
I think it would be for the convenience of the House if I were to say a word in reply to the points that have been raised. Generally, the refrain which we have heard this afternoon has been this continual one of "rough justice." That was the phrase used by my right hon. Friend in a particular context, but it is possible to keep on using the phrase and gradually shifting the emphasis from "justice" to "rough," so that by a process of reductio ad absurdum, one can arrive at a meaning which is something quite different from that which was intended.I emphasise what was said by the hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Nugent), and would say that what we set out to do here was to recoup the industry that part of the guaranteed price arrangements of the February review which would otherwise have been whittled away by the extra cost which this Petrol Duty imposes. As the hon. Gentleman said, we have honoured the bargain completely, without any equivocation and without any attempt to get away from it, and I think that this continual shifting of the emphasis is a little unfair. The fact that, as between individuals and as between machines, it is impossible to get an absolute allocation of the cost of each particular machine to the extent to which it is used, does not seem to me to invalidate that particular doctrine at all. What we have done, with the assistance of the National Farmers' Union, the Association of Agricultural Contractors and the association that represents the machine manufacturers, the engineers and so on, has been to endeavour to get as simple a scheme as we could; one which, without requiring a lot of detailed calculations, would divide the available money as fairly as we could between all the machines being used. Quite contrary to what some hon. Members have said, I do not think it is at all a complicated scheme. If I might answer some of the detailed points that have been raised, the hon. and gallant Baronet who opened the discussion said he was sorry far the Minister of Agriculture. We have had a long experience in withstanding his sorrow, and, on the whole, we are bearing up quite well. The hon. and gallant Baronet's arithmetic also became a little faulty, since the Bill, which he referred to as having been introduced in February, was introduced in June, and, in fact, the time when we began to have all these discussions and work out a scheme was sufficiently in advance of the end of the year to prevent anybody from suffering any hardship. The hon. and gallant Baronet and others have said that they do not like the scheme. We have a little more faith in the people with whom we have had discussions, and the extent to which everybody has tried to produce a scheme shows that, on the whale, it meets the position. The hon. and gallant Baronet made a point about machines being bought at a later period of the year and attracting only a pro rata grant, as against machines bought at the beginning of the year. Of course, in this state of human society, all sorts of people can get up to all sorts of rather clever little tricks to get round the regulations, and, though one wants to tighten them up as far as we can, I do not think these practices will occur very often. The chap who invests £100 in order to avoid losing a particular rate of taxation on machines which he does not intend to use, would be tying up capital that would earn much more if used in some more productive way. I have a much higher regard for the standard of intelligence of the farming community than some hon. Members opposite. I believe that nearly every farmer today is pretty well able to calculate just how much a certain sum of money will earn for him if used in this particular way rather than another, and my experience is that there are always three persons on a farm who are capable of calculating what the machine will earn for them, and, therefore, all this talk about the small farmer not being able to understand the scheme seems to me to be beside the point. On the question of cubic capacity, I hope that the hon. and gallant Baronet may come with me some time to a young farmers' club, perhaps in his own constituency, or in mine or anywhere else. He will find that they have a knowledge of "c.c." and can make their calculations about internal combustion engines in a way that will astonish him, and will show far more knowledge than he or I are likely to have. These people are becoming an engineering industry, as well as farmers under the old conception, and I do not believe that they will have any difficulty in working out the calculations for their own particular machine. I can give the hon. and gallant Baronet some encouragement by saying that the 1,600 c.c. group will be those of 20 horsepower and over. Those in the 800 to 1,599 c.c. group will be those between 10 and 20 horsepower. The farmers will be able to do one of three things. Either the farmer himself, or his son or the tractor driver will know into which group his machine will come. Alternatively, he will know the horsepower, and the agricultural committee will be able to place the machine in its proper grade. Alternatively, again, he may ask the man supplying the tractor, who will be able to tell him, and so I do not think we will have any difficulty about that at all. The hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Hopkinson) asked about the stationary willow-stripping machine. The answer is that, whether the machine is stationary or otherwise, so long as it is used by the growers on their own holdings because of their own agricultural operations they will qualify for grant. We have excluded the non-agriculturist. I was asked about the number of gallons used and it is, I think, about 80. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) asked about the land drainage machines. These we have not included because they are not normally used for agricultural operations within the meaning of the 1947 Act. They do not come in the price review con- siderations. Therefore, nothing that was done in the Budget invalidated this, and we do not have to take care of that. The hon. and gallant Member for Angus, South (Captain Duncan), who was unable to find out whether his farmers are satisfied, can take comfort from two things. First, when farmers are not satisfied they nearly always take pretty good care to make us understand that they are not, and, secondly, the National Farmers' Union have in fact taken a full part in working out all these matters. I think that if the hon. Gentleman now takes steps to inquire, he will find that it has been accepted as a fair and workmanlike job. As to the allowance made to people who will only get £22 10s. as against a computation of £30 to £40 as their expenditure for the year, there are others who will get slightly more than they will regularly spend. The point is that we have to put the total sum of money taken out back into the industry. The hon. Member for Ayrshire, South (Mr. Emrys Hughes) said that the cost is £2½ million for the whole of the United Kingdom and £300,000 for Scotland. I ought to qualify that, as my right hon. Friend did, by pointing out that it is the best estimate that we can make. At the present rates of current consumption, that is what it will be. Of course, if the number of tractors and other machines increases, it will go up accordingly. The hon. Member for Torrington (Mr. Lambert) wanted me to become involved in an argument about T.V.O. versus petrol-driven machines, but I am not entering into that argument. We have done the best to set the thing out in the best way that we can. There was an attempt in this country before this Order came in for more T.V.O. machines. The manufacturer who has been referred to several times by name, and who was thought of as one who produced wholly petrol-driven machines, began to turn over to producing T.V.O. machines before this Order came into consideration, and at one stage a considerable portion of that firm's home market output was already T.V.O. I think that this question will be settled by the demands of the farmers, and, in turn, by the relative efficiency of the two things. The hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. J. MacLeod) pointed out that some farmers have a long way to go to market. The answer to that is: So do all sorts of other people. The increasing of the tax on petrol had an effect on all people who have to go long distances, any way. If we wanted to regulate this for the benefit of the farmers, we would have to regulate it for a whole lot of other people. We have in this industry to be careful not to seem to be making claims and demands that the ordinary sense of public opinion would reject as unreasonable, otherwise we shall be building up a store of ill will which it might be very difficult afterwards to get rid of. I have tried to answer the detailed points as they were raised. I repeat what was said at the beginning, that we regard this as a measure of justice. We believe it puts the money back, and that it has been done on a very fair and, on the whole, a simple and easily grasped basis. Therefore, I hope the House will agree to the Motion.
Question put, and agreed to.
That the Draft Petrol-driven Agricultural Machines (Grants) Scheme, 1950, a copy of which was laid before this House on 1st November, be approved.
Electricity And Gas Undertakings (Severance Compensation)
I beg to move,
"That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, praying that the Regulations, dated 28th July, 1950, entitled the Electricity (Severance Compensation) Regulations, 1950 (S.I., 1950, No. 1278), a copy of which was laid before this House on 28th July, be annulled."
I understand it has been agreed that this Motion and the following Motion in the name of the same hon. and learned Gentleman to the effect
may be discussed together."That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, praying that the Regulations, dated 28th July, 1950, entitled the Gas (Severance Compensation) Regulations, 1950 (S.I., 1950, No. 1277), a copy of which was laid before this House on 28th July, be annulled,"
I was going to suggest that course for the convenience of the House if it was agreed, and I think the Minister who is going to reply might find it convenient.These two Motions affect, the first, 350 local authorities which formerly had electricity undertakings, and the second, 276 local authorities which formerly had gas undertakings, so that the Motions are of fairly wide importance to people in the country. So far as my own constituency is concerned, the District Council of Hoylake had an electricity and gas undertaking, and the District Council of Ellesmere Port had a gas undertaking, so that I am personally concerned to that extent. I must say straight away to the House that it is a matter of some complication to go into the regulations made under these two Acts, and I ask for the indulgence of the House if I do not explain my point of view very clearly. But the regulations are made, in the case of the electricity undertakings, under Section 23 of the Electricity Act, 1947, and the Gas Order under Section 29 of the Gas Act, 1948. I think it would be for the convenience of the House if I read the Section of the Electricity Act. It says:
Therefore, both my Motions deal with the problem of the severance of electricity or gas undertakings from other activities of the councils concerned. It is a matter on which one would hope there might be points of view which transcend points of party difference, and I hope that before we finish the discussion, views will be expressed by hon. Members opposite which will assist in bringing pressure to bear on the Minister with regard to these matters. So far as these municipalities are concerned, I think that to most hon. Members the way in which they carried on their business is common knowledge. When I started my apprenticeship in local government, I joined a local autho- rity which had its own gas, water and electricity undertakings. In other words, it was a small all-purpose authority. In passing, I think it is a matter of great regret to many of us that that sort of authority has been disestablished in this way by these nationalisation schemes. The legal and the committee work of the undertakings owned by such authorities was done in the town hall; the treasurer's department handled and sent out all the accounts, the audit of the accounts and the payment of wages were done centrally, and the cashiers in the town hall received all the cash that came in for the electricity and gas undertakings as well as for the general rate fund. As a result of severance, so far as the larger municipalities are concerned, it may well have been possible for them to hand over to the new Board complete the branch of the staff which dealt with many of the matters to which I have referred, but, so far as the smaller authorities are concerned, it has not been possible to do so. This is principally for the reason, of which we have had some experience in the last week, of the difficulty of splitting of the human atom—and I look to one bench in the House. As far as the single individual is concerned, it has not yet been proved possible to split him. In fact, the same cashier who took the cash for these various undertakings was also the man who took the rates and he has to be in the continual employment of the council in order to carry on that activity. Again, in the matter of accommodation, the larger authorities were able to hand over to the new Board accommodation which housed special staff. In the case of the smaller authority, the treasurer's department, the wages staff, etc., were all housed under the town hall roof. That has still to be maintained and it costs as much to light, heat and run it as before. Therefore, it should be considered, by those who can direct their minds reasonably to this matter, that the smaller authorities suffer more than the larger authorities. I think I can claim general agreement on that. When the Electricity (Severance Compensation) Regulations were debated on 18th October this year, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power said, when defending the formula which I am attacking:"There shall be paid by the Central authority to local authorities, by way of compensation in respect of the severance of their electricity undertakings from their other activities, the sum of five million pounds, and the said sum shall be divided among such of the said local authorities as satisfy the prescribed conditions, and the amounts to be paid to the individual authorities shall be determined in such manner and in accordance with such principles as may be prescribed."
So we start, I hope, with common ground, as far as the Minister and I are concerned, that we desire to assist the smaller undertakings rather than the larger ones. Therefore, if we agree as far as that purpose is concerned, the only matter to be resolved is whether the Minister's formula does help the small authorities rather than the larger authorities. Now we have to consider the methods which the Minister is adopting. I understand no attempt was made to find out how much the undertaking in each case actually contributed to the central establishment charges of the council. Probably that was right because it would have meant very complicated investigations into the affairs of each individual corporation. But a rather rougher and readier method was adopted. The first part of that method was to use the consumer basis. That was a recommendation of the Institute of Municipal Treasurers and Accountants, and, in order that there shall be no feeling in this debate between the large authority and the smaller authority, I must say that that Institute does represent both the small and the large authorities; and I would be very willing to take the judgment of the Institute upon this matter as between those classes of authorities. The Institute did recommend that the consumer basis was the proper basis, even though a rough and ready one, to calculate the method whereby some of the £5 million was to be split up. Having decided that the consumer basis was a good one—and in fact the Minister, as to 75 per cent. of the sum, has split it up on the consumer basis—the next point is to decide whether the flat rate per consumer was the proper way to do it. I should have thought that it would be a commonplace of administration that as the numbers of consumers increase so the overheads proportionately to consumers decrease. I should have thought that that was a first principle of mass production, or of any form of administration. For example, the first thousand consumers would cost much more per consumer to administer than the next 9,000. Therefore, I should have thought that there would be a very strong case, difficult to argue against, that the consumer calculation should be on the basis of a sliding scale. I think that argument does receive general agreement. It is always the argument put forward on behalf of the larger authority when they seek to extend their boundaries. It is always suggested in those cases that it will result in more economical administration. If that is the case, I do not think that argument could be controverted now. Taking the electricity regulations first, the method selected is to use the consumer basis as to 75 per cent., but at a flat rate which, I suggest, is contrary to sound principles. The remaining 25 per cent. is allotted on a rather different basis. It is allotted according to three calculations—first of all, in accordance with units generated 6¼ per cent., then in accordance with units sold in bulk, 6¼ per cent., and finally in accordance with revenue, 12½ per cent. To a certain extent those matters do overlap and, as it is the larger authorities which are the authorities which generate electricity, they benefit owing to the fact that the calculations relate to units generated, units sold and revenue. The Institute of Municipal Treasurers and Accountants did not consider that those other three items should be brought into the calculation at all. As I said, that is an Institute on which the larger authorities are represented. Even conceding that one should bring in those other three items, because it is a method of permitting the larger authority to get a benefit from the larger consumer, it is all the stronger case for the consumer side of it being done on the basis of a sliding scale. The proof of my contention is indicated by the actual figures. If we consider the effect on 350 authorities concerned of the rules which the Minister makes, we see that the national average, taking the total sum to be distributed and the total number of consumers, is 13s. 4d. per consumer. The largest ten undertakings, according to the Minister's formula, are being compensated at the rate of 14s. 8d. per consumer and the remaining 340 at the rate of 12s. 10d. The largest 20 undertakings are being compensated at the rate of 14s. 5d. per consumer, and the remaining 330 at the rate of 12s. 8d. If one takes the largest 31 undertakings, they are compensated at the rate of 14s. 5d. per consumer, and the remaining 319 at 12s. 7d. If one takes the largest 43 undertakings, they are compensated at the rate of 14s. 4d. per consumer and the remaining 307 at 12s. 1d. per consumer. It is clear that the way in which the Minister's formula works out is so that the smaller authority comes off worse than the larger authority. I do not know whether, by his nod, the Parliamentary Secretary is indicating, as a matter of courtesy, that he is following my argument, or whether he is indicating that he approves of my proposition that the impact of severance is more serious on the smaller authority than on the larger authority, and of my submission that the smaller number of consumers costs more per head to administer than the larger number of consumers."We felt at the Ministry that this formula, did, in fact, favour the smaller undertakings rather than the larger ones."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th October, 1950; Vol. 476, c. 2187.]
I was merely indicating that I was following the argument with great interest. I shall say something about it later.
Perhaps I was anticipating, but I am certain that even the Minister is not deaf to sound argument, and that, if he does not accept it many of his colleagues will accept the argument I am putting forward. The effect of the scale laid down in these regulations is as I have just described in the case of electricity.So far as gas is concerned, the average for all 276 authorities is 12s. 1½d. per consumer. The 19 bigger authorities get 12s. 3d. per consumer, and the 257 smaller ones 11s. 7d., so, although the difference is not so marked as in the case of the electricity formula, nevertheless there is some discrimination against the smaller authority. May I give the result of this in the case of Hoylake electricity undertaking, an undertaking, incidentally, on which the ratepayers have spent £300,000, of which £205,000 have been paid out of revenue or by loans since paid off? Reserves were £18,500, and so the Board paid £76,500 for an undertaking worth at least £250,000. That is another story, appreciated at the appropriate time by the electors in that particular area. The ratepayers there certainly got a very bad bargain. Now severance compensation is to be given to them. The burden of severance which could not be passed on—the burden which is going to remain with the local authority— amounted to £2,773 for 1947–48, and the compensation which they get under the Minister's regulations is £5,595. I think the Minister will agree that in the case of the smaller authority it must take longer than two years to get over the effect of losing such undertakings. In fact, I think the then Financial Secretary indicated a period of five years when the matter was under discussion in 1947. Therefore, on that basis we ought to get very much more. The Minister said that his formula favoured the smaller authorities. I think I have shown quite clearly that it has not done so. I think my argument must commend itself to hon. Members in all parts of the House. Dealing finally with the only real argument which I believe the Minister can bring against us, with regard to delay, I would say this to him. If he will submit his formula to the Institute of Municipal Treasurers and Accountants and ask them to say whether they consider that it favours the smaller authority, and if that Institute says that it favours the smaller authority, I, for one, will say no more about the matter and will accept their view; but if, as I am certain he will find, they say this formula favours the larger authority rather than the smaller, again I ask him on a rough and ready basis quickly to make fresh Regulations to meet this matter in a more just and equitable manner.
I beg to second the Motion.In moving this Motion my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) has advanced very plain and clear arguments. As he said at the beginning of his speech, this is a somewhat complicated matter for those who are not connected with this type of undertaking, but I think the House will agree that my hon. and learned Friend made his arguments amply clear for all, even perhaps the less intelligent of us, to understand. I should like to concentrate on the electricity undertakings and leave others to deal with the further arguments in support of our condemnation of the gas severance compensation. I do not believe that any hon. Member would deny the justice of what my hon. and learned Friend said, when he stated that these Electricity Regulations are definitely unfair to the smaller authorities. We are not asking the Minister to change his mind about these regulations for any political reasons; I believe that this truth is fully in the minds of many hon. Members opposite who may have some of the smaller electricity undertakings in their constituencies. Therefore, all we are asking from the Minister tonight is justice, and it is in the hope that he will accept the truth of our arguments that we wish to apply ourselves to this question. It is clear to anybody who knows of a small local authority with an electricity undertaking that that small authority has, in fact, suffered far more than has the larger authority, because so much of the work of the electricity undertaking was carried out within the normal local government departments of the council concerned. In Felixstowe, which is in my constituency, we have an undertaking typical of these smaller undertakings which we on this side of the House think have been penalised by the Minister. This undertaking has, I think, slightly over 5,000 consumers. It was a flourishing, small concern, but much of the work of the administration of this undertaking was carried out by the staff of the clerk or treasurer of the council. They were responsible for the final accounts, the legal side, creditor ledgers, loan matters and a number of other items of that nature. When this undertaking was removed from them, many of what we regard as the permanent staff were deprived of a considerable amount of the work which they had been accustomed to carry out. My constituents and I feel that in addition to the overall criticism that we have lost a very profitable undertaking which had built up reserves of £12,000 and which had got a working revenue of £7,500, a further injustice to the town of Felixstowe is caused by the Minister's regulations which we are discussing. I would point out that, under the basis which the Minister has adopted, Felixstowe will receive 12s. 4d. per consumer; and yet, as my hon. and learned Friend has said, the average throughout the country is 13s. 4d. Therefore, here is this small authority which suffers more from severance than the many other larger authorities and is receiving 1s. less than the national average under these regulations. That cannot be justice. I hope that the Minister will not feel that he has committed himself too far. I hope that he will feel that there is no disgrace in thinking again when good arguments are put up to him which should cause him to change his mind. One of the most telling points in this matter is the fact that the Institute of Municipal Treasurers and Accountants put forward proposals very similar to those put forward by the Urban District Councils Association. I am not particularly pressing the detailed claims of the Urban District Councils Association. They were naturally responsible for putting forward as good an argument as possible for those councils which they represent. But to me it seems clear that those proposals which they put forward were reasonable proposals on which it would be expected the Minister would be prepared to negotiate. He did not do that, although the Institute of Municipal Treasurers and Accountants based the foremost part of their proposals on the principle of a sliding scale. This fact was also vital to the interests represented by the Urban District Councils Association. Therefore it is strange that the Minister in these Regulations has flatly refused to adopt the sliding scale principle. I am certain that the real root of this trouble is the failure of the Minister to adopt this sliding scale. We are not going to get the justice which I believe the whole House, irrespective of political beliefs, wants to give to these smaller authorities, until the sliding scale principle is accepted. I hope that the Minister, having listened to what we consider are very reasonable arguments, will be prepared to think again and that he will give justice where justice is very much due.
I do not think there is one hon. Member who would not do a great deal to remedy any form of injustice and that, I think, is the keynote of this debate. We are not seeking to make political capital out of this Motion. I would point out to the Minister that there are many thousands of people in the country who voted, some of them Socialist, some of them Conservative and some of them Liberal, and to whom the arguments on nationalisation are probably dead and gone, but who feel that they have a real grievance in this matter of compensation for severance.I refer, in particular, to those very tiny microcosms of the gas industry such as those run by small local authorities. I am familiar with about three of these, and one of the very impressive things about them is that people have always had a good deal of interest and pride in the fact that their industry has been run locally. The nationalisation of their industry was, naturally, a matter of some grief to them and harsh words were probably said. These local authorities are suffering a very great injustice by virtue of these regulations. It is clearly understood that Section 29 of the Gas Act, 1948, provided for some £2,500,000, which was to be divided among the local authorities as compensation for the severance of their activities, according to the loss they suffered. I do not believe that compensation has worked out that way. The arguments of my hon. Friends show that the loss to the small local authorities is far greater than it is in the case of the larger authorities. I do not think there is any question of that. Their argument is, too, that the regulations as they stand favour the larger authorities. I would refer to the case of Haverhill, a small town in my constituency, where, for many years, we have had a very active and well-run gas committee. The gas undertaking was in excellent shape when it was taken over, and if anyone had tried to buy that industry it would have cost at least £50,000. To reinforce the arguments of those of my hon. Friends who have already spoken on this subject. I would point out that the administration of that undertaking was principally carried out by the local clerk, who was responsible for the administrative work and the accountancy. The meetings were held in the council offices. The collection of revenue for the undertaking was carried out by the local collector, among his other duties. In the course of a normal year's work the local authority charged £622 on account of the salaries of these staffs. None of these officers has been transferred to the Eastern Gas Board. The whole of that proportion of the salaries is still carried by the local authority That represents, to a tiny community like Haver- hill, about 7d. on the rates. The position is different in the case of larger local authorities who had their business taken over as an entity, with clerical staff, and so on. I know of no case where the whole of the undertaking has been taken over as an entity and where there has been an increased charge on the rates as a result of the nationalisation of the industry. We can see how seriously this matter is regarded in a village like Haverhill. I could give two or three other examples of the same kind. As far as we can calculate, the total compensation for Haverhill under these regulations will be about £800. That is to compensate them for a continuing charge of over £600 a year. I submit that it is quite justifiable for them to claim that the sum payable as compensation ought to compensate them for the extra £600 a year which they have to pay, but I do not imagine for one moment that the Minister would consider such an amount as compensation. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Sudbury and Woodbridge (Mr. Hare) and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd), who said that there ought to be some kind of sliding scale, for it is obvious to anybody who has had dealings with these people that they are suffering from a real grievance and that £600 extra on the rates each year is a very serious matter. I was interested to read, in HANSARD, in the report of a debate of 1948, that the Lord President argued about the principles upon which compensation should be paid. The argument was, at the same time, that it was quite logical for us to assume that the taking over of a local authority undertaking of this kind was really a transfer from one public body to another. He denied charges that the Government were expropriating millions of pounds from the ratepayers. I can assure the Minister that a lot of ratepayers do not feel that way. Human beings do not always respond to logic when their own interests are affected. There is no doubt that people like the gas consumers of Haverhill have seen their undertakings, of which they were very proud, taken over upon what they consider to be confiscatory terms. They have seen the rates go up by 7d., they have seen the price of gas go up and they have seen a reduction in the quality of the service. I am sure that there is a sound reason for an increase in the price of gas. I would not criticise the Eastern Gas Board on that account, although I feel that perhaps the National Coal Board might be criticised. But there is no excuse for this unfair and unjust treatment which means that, as a result of the terms of the compensation, there is a permanent increase in the rates of a tiny community. The Minister must consider this as a matter of elementary justice and nothing else.
This is not a matter of party controversy, but rather one of putting right an anomaly, upon which, I think, hon. Members on all sides could agree. My hon. Friends have made it so very clear that there is an anomaly that I hope we can look forward with confidence to the Parliamentary Secretary promising, in his speech, to reconsider the matter. I have the more confidence that he will do so because, in his speech of 19th October, he said that he felt that this formula adopted by the Ministry favoured the small authority.I assumed from that that the right hon. Gentleman was not trying to give favour to one section of the community over the other without reason, but rather that he felt that the smaller authorities had a case for a preference to be given to them. The reason has already been given by my hon. Friends, namely, that the larger authorities have been able to make economies which are not possible to the smaller. Let me give an instance, from my own constituency, of a town where, I believe, the electrical business was undertaken in one room which was used for other activities of the council and the officials who managed it also managed other activities of the council. In that case there was no saving. So these small undertakings deserve some greater compensation than the larger. The fact is that the figures show the very reverse. I will, if I may, give two examples from my constituency—examples which apply to many places. Let us take the case of Scarborough which is not, after all a very small town. The number of the consumers is not small. It may not be quite in proportion to the fame of the town, which is so popular with hon. Gentlemen opposite, but it is just under 18,000; yet, under the regulations, the amount per consumer works out at 12s. 11d. In the case of the smaller town of Whitby the amount works out at only 11s. 11d. I think that the national average is 13s. 4d., and that many of the towns—the larger ones—get up to 14s. 10d. Earlier today the Minister of Agriculture, talking on a rather different subject, said he would do his best to hold the balance between crooks and honest men. He did not explain how he would achieve that very difficult object. However, I am asking the Parliamentary Secretary to do something very much easier—to hold a fair balance between honest men.
If I enter a plea to my hon. Friend for reconsideration of this matter it may emphasise the non-party character of this debate. We are all clear about two important facts. The total amount of compensation was fixed, I think, under the Electricity Act, 1947. There is no question of increasing the total amount of compensation. What we are discussing is how it should be divided.Another feature of importance is that Section 23 of that Act did not specify or define the principles upon which the compensation should be based. It said that compensation should be granted in accordance with "such principles as might be prescribed." I assumed from that that the Minister, in consultation with those whose interests he would wish to consult, was free to prescribe the principles upon which the compensation should be based. We are clear from what the Parliamentary Secretary said in the previous debate, on 18th October, that the compensation was for severance of the undertakings and was not compensation for the loss of them to the local authorities concerned. I have received representations from two urban districts in my own constituency, the urban districts of Hebden Royd and Elland, both of them reasonable authorities, who feel strongly that the compensation prescribed in the regulations is unfair to them. I was hoping that in the previous debate—all through which I sat listening carefully to all the arguments—we should get from the Parlia mentary Secretary a full explanation of the basis of compensation adopted. Unhappily—and, here, I hope not to strike a discordant note—the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch (Mr. Bracken) intervened with one of his typically boisterous contributions, so that the wishes of the more tranquil Members of the House, who were hoping to get this explanation from the Parliamentary Secretary, were disappointed. I therefore suggest that on this occasion the right hon. Gentleman may perhaps, facilitate matters if he does not seek to catch your eye, Sir.
I think it is only fair that the hon. Gentleman should also point out that my right hon. Friend's speech was made after the Parliamentary Secretary had made his unsatisfactory reply.
Yes. It is, however, a fact that certain interjections made by the right hon. Gentleman before my hon. Friend spoke showed quite well which way the wind was blowing. However, I leave that, otherwise I shall be doing exactly what I am rebuking the right hon. Gentleman for.One of the authorities, the Urban District Council of Hebden Royd, drew attention to the difficulty which they had with a small number of consumers—no more than 2,800—in the administration of their electricity undertakings, who were separate from the general administration of the local authority. They were mixed up. There were not enough to justify separate staffs and separate premises, so that, in fact, the electricity undertaking paid to the general administration account the sum of £650 a year to cover part of the time of the clerk of the authority and part of the time of shorthand typists and clerical staff. They represented strongly to me—and I have made a special effort to understand their view, to see whether it is reasonable—that an authority such as that, which could not fold up the administration of the electricity section of their activities and hand over to the new authority, were especially penalised by the adoption of a formula which does not give full and, indeed, from their point of view, exclusive emphasis to the number of consumers. They attached little importance in their view to the formula of the 25 per cent. which is divided as to a proportion of revenue and a proportion of units generated, leaving aside those generated and supplied in bulk. I hope that my hon. Friend will be at some pains to explain and defend the formula which is contained in the regulations. We all appreciate, I am sure, the need for getting the maximum agreement between all parties concerned. None of us would envy him the task which confronts him in reconciling different claims and interests, and getting a formula which commands general assent, but there is no doubt that the urban district councils with which I am concerned feel that less than justice has been done. The amount per consumer which they get out of the proposed compensation of only £1,597 is 11s. 5d. per consumer, which is nearly a shilling less than the average for these smaller authorities, in contrast with the 15s. 5d. per consumer in the case, for example, of the Birmingham Corporation. That is all I have to say. I rose in the role of one seeking a fuller explanation and a more convincing defence of the proposed formula than it has been our lot to hear up to now.
I rise for only a moment or two, following the speech of the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton), particularly to stress the fact, which he has pointed out, that this is not a party issue. As a matter of fact, I merely intervene because I have the honour to be President of the Urban District Councils' Association, and I am supported by a galaxy of vice-presidents in all quarters of the House. I do not wish to go over all the arguments again, but I ask the Minister to believe that we are raising this matters because we feel that the smaller local authorities are not getting the deal which I think he himself intended that they should get under these regulations.I wish to reinforce the plea made from all sides of the House that the Minister should look again at these regulations. I do not think he need fear that in doing so he would lose any authority or prestige. All we ask him to do is to look at them and to present new regulations which will produce the effect he himself has said is desirable—that the smaller authorities should be compensated rather better than the larger authorities. The present position, as we see it, is exactly the opposite.
I rise to deal with only two points. When, on 18th October, I put forward certain arguments, the Parliamentary Secretary, in reply, made it quite plain that he and his right hon. Friend were anxious that justice should be done to the smaller local authorities. There is one point which has not been mentioned this afternoon to which I would invite the hon. Gentleman's attention, and that is that it is unjust to smaller authorities that the generation and sale of current should be taken into account when under earlier Statutes those smaller authorities are precluded from generating.My own local authority, which has pressed me upon this subject, is the Urban District Council of New Mills, and under the formula which the Government are putting forward they stand to lose £600 as compared with the compensation they would have received if fair consideration had been given and if, instead of a flat rate, there had been a b sliding scale, as recommended by both the Urban District Councils Association and the Association of Borough Treasurers and Accountants.
I feel that I must intervene because on the last occasion when this question was discussed I raised with the Parliamentary Secretary the very important matter of the position of smaller authorities, and I hope I am not misrepresenting him when I say that I got the impression that the smaller authorities would be looked after. If that was the impression he gave me, I must ask him very sincerely to have another look at this important question. Most of my division is a development area, and the Crook and Willington Urban District Council has written and asked me to raise this matter tonight.I am doing so because the Government have had to plant three factories in Crook to use the unemployed people in that area. I suggest that the Parliamentary Secretary, who is responsible for this—he is a very reasonable chap, and I hope he will show his reasonableness tonight—will give us what we are asking. It is not a bit of use giving us something with one hand by planting factories in a development area and then taking it away with the other hand when something has to be taken from that area which will mean 6d. or 7d. on the local rate. That is what this means, because on the figures given to me, under the formula suggested by the Minister, the Crook and Willington Urban District Council would receive £1,251, whereas under the recommendation of the Urban District Councils Association they would receive £2,011. In other words, they will be down £760. That is a very serious matter for a small authority. For an authority with just over 20,000 inhabitants to find an extra 7d. rate is no mean matter, and I ask my hon. Friend to see whether this formula can be adjusted, and at least to give me the satisfaction of feeling in my heart that he did not misrepresent the situation when we last debated it. I did not get up to make a long speech, but I felt that I could not let a chance like this go by, lest it was felt that because hon. Members opposite had raised the matter there was no substance in it. I thought that an echo from this side of the House might add some weight—and I think I am a fairly substantial fellow for doing that. I hope that I have said enough to impress on the Parliamentary Secretary that this is a serious matter for local authorities such as Crook and Willington, and if he can adjust the formula so that those who are strong financially can bear the extra burden and give any benefit there night be to the smaller authorities, he will be doing a good job of work tonight.
I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Durham, North-West (Mr. Murray) would never accuse me of willingly at this Box misleading the House, or indeed misleading individual Members when we are talking informally outside this Chamber. What I said in the speech which has been referred to so many times tonight was that we had weighted this formula in the interests of the small authorities.I am sure the whole House is grateful to the hon. and learned Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) for the very excellent case that he presented. He put all the facts before the House, and I do not want to add to or detract from them, or to argue with any of the facts which he gave the House. He set out the position very clearly, and the fact that he is the vice-president of the Urban District Councils Association lends some weight to his argument, because he knows all about it. At the same time it does reveal some slight interest in this matter on behalf of the urban district councils.
He is "a" vice-president.
I was referring to the fact that he is the vice-chairman of this association.
Vice-president, not vice-chairman.
Despite what the right hon. Gentleman says, he is the vice-chairman. He does not deny that.
He is "a" vice-president.
I am saying that because of that the facts which he gives in his speech would be accurate. I am sure we shall get along very pleasantly and follow the arguments out quite nicely if the right hon. Member will restrain himself and let us get on to the facts of the situation.
I did at the beginning of my speech make it quite clear that I represented four urban district councils, and that I had a particular interest in this. I did not think that my being one of the vice-presidents of the Urban District Councils Association was of sufficient importance to warrant my informing the House of it.
It is a very important position and I did not want hon. Members to leave tonight without knowing the important position held by the hon. and learned Member. It is very important that the House should know. I agree that this is not a political issue at all. There are representatives of urban district councils on all sides of the House; all of them will have received letters complaining about the formula which has been laid down, and will have been given the figures in relation to their own area to show what they would have received under the sliding scale formula, which was their proposition, as against the formula which has been laid down by my right hon. Friend. I agree that there is no politics in this.We were faced with dividing £5 million in respect of electricity and £2½ million in respect of gas amongst all those authorities who had undertakings. Our job at the Ministry was to divide that out fairly in accordance with the Act. My right hon. Friend described in very clear detail precisely what that compensation should meet. It was to meet the case where officers had lost certain duties and where it would be some time before other duties could be found for them. It was clear that there was a great difference of opinion among the local authorities, varying with their size. Indeed, if tonight I were to say, "All right, let us withdraw this, let us have the sliding scale recommended by the Urban District Councils Association" and if subsequently I were to produce that in this House, we should have another Prayer. But on that occasion the Members taking part would be representing the large local authorities, and they would be saying precisely what hon. Members have been saying tonight on behalf of the urban district councils, but in a different context. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] It is no use hon. Members saying "No" at this stage. If, in fact, that formula was adopted, they would receive the same letters as the Urban District Councils Association. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Yes they would, and I will prove it in a few minutes. The fact is that if one represents a constituency which has a small undertaking, then, of course, the sliding scale is the formula for favouring the smaller undertakings to the disadvantage of the larger undertakings. I repeat that if we were to change this round, we should have another Prayer, and this time the big guns would be brought to bear. There may be some exceptions, but by and large I am certain that would be the trend of events. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I will prove it. Indeed, I said something like this on the last occasion we debated this matter. We have not produced these regulations in five minutes; we have been two and a half years on this job, and many hon. Members have complained about that. But why have two and a half years been taken up in this way? They have been spent in getting all the various local authorities together to see if they could agree on a common formula. This formula has been accepted by all except the Urban District Councils Association. Where did this start? The first basis for the formula was consumers 40 per cent., revenue 25 per cent., and sales and generation 35 per cent. That was where the basis of argument started between all the local authorities concerned. Hon. Members will see from that how far we have moved in the direction of assisting the smaller authorities by the 75 per cent., 12½ per cent. and l2½ per cent. we are now proposing.
Whose formula was that?
This was the formula which was initially the basis of discussion with all the local authorities.
By whom was it suggested?
This was produced at the beginning as a basis of discussion by the Ministry after consultations with some of the local authority organisations. It has moved a long way from there.Hon. Members have produced very good evidence and figures as to the effect upon their particular local authority undertakings; but, of course, they will obviously produce the figures that suit the case, and I am always chary of accepting figures because I do not think they ever prove cases. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Really, they do not. The case put forward by hon. Members can easily be shown to be quite different in other examples. For instance, there is an area very well known to every hon. Member of this House—Ebbw Vale. That authority would get 20s. per consumer on this basis, and they are an urban district council. Thornton Cleveleys, also an urban district council, would get 20s. per consumer, but a city like Manchester would only get 14s. 9d. These are the electricity undertakings.
Does not the hon. Gentleman admit that he has picked out the two urban district councils which are quite exceptional because of the relationship of the units sold to the number of consumers?
Of course, I have picked out the exceptional councils. Before I produced the figures I said I was going to produce the exceptional ones, because those which have been produced in this House tonight have been exceptional ones. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Oh, yes.
Tell us the average.
I am not bothered about the average; the average does not make the case at all. The fact is that some urban district councils will do well out of the formula and some larger boroughs will not do so well. However, the fact remains that if we were to take the sliding scale, as proposed by the Urban District Councils Association, it would be to the disadvantage of the larger authorities who not only had to serve large industrial users, which were only reckoned as one consumer, but also had to serve generating stations, the staffs of which have not all been taken over. None of those considerations would have been taken into account at all. I am certain no hon. Member would say we should not take into account that kind of severance problem.If we want to consider the figures in another way, let us have a look at the effect on rates. Hon. Members have been discussing this matter in terms of "per consumer." They are really anxious to stand up for their ratepayers. If we look at Manchester, we find that that authority will get by way of compensation 6d. for electricity and 5½d. for gas. When we come to urban district councils, we see that Hindley will get 7d. for electricity, which is more than Manchester, and 1s. 0½d. for gas, and there is a number of such cases. I agree that I have selected these examples in order to show the other side of the picture, where, in point of fact, on rateable value, the urban district councils have done very much better than have the larger local authorities.
What has rateable value to do with it?
The amounts of compensation, if expressed in terms of the rate, would come to the figures I have indicated. In other words, the contribution would be 6d. for Manchester, and 1s. 2d. in the case of Ebbw Vale, and 7d. in the case of Hindley. Therefore, one can use these figures to prove almost anything. Indeed, that is what good statisticians usually do.To come back to what we have to do, I would point out that we have to divide this £5 million and the £2,500,000 in equity. This formula, which I agree has taken two and a half years to produce, has only been produced after endless negotiations with all the authorities concerned. It is very interesting to note that the Scottish associations, representing both the large and the small, have accepted this formula entirely, and that in England only the Urban District Councils Association have not accepted it. No matter what kind of formula is produced, there are bound to be some snags about it. No formula can produce a fair and just way of distributing this money. It must be rough and ready justice, and that is what this formula provides. But, at least, it is a formula to which all associations except the Urban District Councils' Association have subscribed, and so far as that association is concerned, they are doing very much better under this formula than they would have done under any of the previous formulas discussed.
What about the formula of the Institute of Municipal Accountants?
That is a professional body. The Institute is a professional body, but the people the Government must consult are not professional bodies of that character, but the local authority and urban district council associations. While the Institute can probably give advice to their constituents, the fact remains that they are not a negotiating body, but that the local government associations are.It really boils down to this, that this formula represents, as near as can be obtained, a fair division of the amount of money for severance which the Bill provides for compensation. That it represents rough justice, I agree; but, at the same time, any other formula would lead to the same kind of debate in the House. In view of the fact that we have all the associations accepting this formula, except for this one body, it seems to me that the House can readily accept the formula laid down.
The House divided: Ayes, 179; Noes, 212.
Division No. 5.]
|Aitken, W. T||Harden, J R E||Orr, Capt. L. P. S|
|Alport, C. J. M||Harris, F. W (Croydon, N.)||Osborne, C|
|Amory, D Heathcoat (Tiverton)||Harvey, Air Codre A V. (Macclesfield)||Perkins, W. R. D.|
|Arbuthnot, John||Harvey, Ian (Harrow, E.)||Pickthorn, K|
|Ashton, H (Chelmsford)||Hay, John||Price, H. A. (Lewisham, W.)|
|Baker, P||Heald, L. F.||Raikes, H. V.|
|Baldock, J. M.||Hicks-Beach, Maj. W. W.||Rayner, Brig. R.|
|Baldwin, A. E||Higgs, J. M C||Redmayne, M.|
|Banks, Col C.||Hill, Mrs. E (Wythenshawe)||Renton, D. L. M.|
|Bell, R. M||Hinchingbrooke, Viscount||Roberts, Emrys (Merioneth)|
|Bennett, Sir P. (Edgbaston)||Hirst, Geoffrey||Robertson, Sir D (Caithness)|
|Bennett, R. F. B. (Gosport)||Hollis, M C||Robinson, J. Roland (Blackpool, S.)|
|Bennett, W G (Woodside)||Hopkinson, H ||Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks)|
|Bevins J R (Liverpool Toxteth)||Hornsby-Smith, Miss P||Roper, Sir H.|
|Birch, Nigel||Horsbrugh, Rt. Hon. Florence||Ropner, Col. L|
|Bishop, F P||Howard, G R (St Ives)||Ross, Sir R D. (Londonderry)|
|Black C W||Howard, Gerald (Cambridgeshire)||Russell, R. S|
|Boles, Lt.-Col D C (Wells)||Hudson, Sir Austin (Lewisham, N.)||Ryder Capt R E D|
|Bossom, A C||Hudson, Rt Hon R S (Southport)||Scott, Donald|
|Bowen, R||Hudson, W R A (Hull, N.)||Shepherd, W S (Cheadle)|
|Boyd-Carpenter, J A||Hutchison, Lt -Com Clark (E'b'rgh W.)||Smiles, Lt.-Col Sir W|
|Bracken, Rt. Hon Brendan||Hutchison, Col. J. R. H (Scotstoun)||Smith, E Martin (Grantham)|
|Braine, B||Jennings, R.||Smithers, Peter H. B (Winchester)|
|Braithwaite, Lt.-Comdr ||Jones, A. (Hall Green)||Spearman, A C M|
|Brooke, H. (Hampstead)||Joynson-Hicks, Hon L W||Spens, Sir P (Kensington, S.)|
|Browne, J N (Govan)||Lambert, Hon G||Stevens, G P|
|Buchan-Hepburn, P G ||Lancaster, Col C G||Stoddart-Scott, Col M|
|Burden, Squadron-Leader F A.||Legge-Bourke, Maj. E A H||Strauss, Henry (Norwich S)|
|Butler, Rt Hon R A (S'ffr'n W'ld'n)||Lennox-Boyd, A. T||Stuart, Rt Hon J (Moray)|
|Channon, H||Linstead, H N||Summers, G S|
|Clarke, Col. R. S. (East Grinstead)||Llewellyn, D||Sutcliffe H|
|Clarke, Brig. T. H. (Portsmouth, W.)||Lloyd, Maj Guy (Renfrew, E.)||Teeling William|
|Conant, Maj. R J. E||Lockwood, Lt.-Col. J C||Thomas, J P L (Hereford)|
|Cooper, A E (Ilford, S.)||Low, A R. W||Thompson, K P (Walton)|
|Cooper-Key, E. M.||McAdden, S. J||Thompson, R H M (Croydon, W.)|
|Craddock, G B (Spelthorne)||McCallum, Maj D||Thornton-Kemsley, C N|
|Cranborne, Viscount||Macdonald, Sir P (I. of Wight)||Thorp, Brigadier R A|
|Cross, Rt. Hon. Sir R||Mackeson, Brig. H R||Touche, G C|
|Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col O E||McKibbin, A.||Turton, R H|
|Crouch, R. F||McKie J H. (Galloway)||Turner, H F L|
|Crowder, F P. (Ruislip—Northwood)||Maclean, F H. R.||Vane, W M F|
|Davies, Nigel (Epping)||MacLeod, Iain (Enfield, W.)||Vaughan-Morgan, J K|
|Deedes, W. F.||MacLeod, John (Ross and Cromarty)||Vosper, D F|
|Digby, S. Wingfield||Macmillan, Rt. Hon Harold (Bromley)||Wakefield, E B (Derbyshire, W.)|
|Dodds-Parker, A D||Maitland, Comdr J. W||Walker-Smith, D C|
|Donner, P W.||Manningham-Buller, R E||Ward, Hon G R (Worcester)|
|Drewe, C||Marples, A E||Ward, Miss (Tynem|
|Dugdale, Maj Sir T (Richmond)||Marshall, D. (Bodmin)||Waterhouse, Capt C|
|Duncan, Capt J A L||Maude, A E U (Ealing, S.)||Watkinson, H|
|Duthie W S||Mellor, Sir J.||Wheatley, Major M J (Poole)|
|Fletcher, W. (Bury)||Molson, A H E||White, J. Baker (Canterbury)|
|Fort, R.||Morris, R Hopkin (Carmarthen)||Williams, C (Torquay)|
|Foster, J G.||Morrison, Maj. J. G (Salisbury)||Williams, Gerald (Tonbr|
|Fraser, Hon. H C. P. (Stone)||Nabarro, G||Williams, Sir H. G (Croydon, E.)|
|Fraser, Sir I. (Lonsdale)||Nicholls, H.||Wills, G|
|Fyfe, Rt. Hon Sir. D. P M||Nicholson, G.||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Galbraith, Cmdr T. D (Pollok)||Nugent, G R. H||Wood, Hon. R|
|Galbraith, T. G. D. (Hillhead)||Nutting, Anthony||York, C.|
|Garner-Evans, E. H. (Denbigh)||Oakshott, H D|
|Gridley, Sir A||Ormsby-Gore, Hon. W D||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Grimston, R. V. (Westbury)||Mr. Selwyn Lloyd and|
|Mr. J. H. Hare.|
|Acland, Sir Richard||Brook, D (Halifax)||Crawley, A.|
|Allen, A C. (Bosworth)||Brooks, T. J (Normanton)||Darnes, P.|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Brown, George (Belper)||Darling G. (Hillsboro')|
|Anderson, A. (Motherwell)||Brown, T J. (Ince)||Davies, A Edward (Stoke, N.)|
|Awbery, S S.||Butler, H W (Hackney. S.)||Davies, Harold (Leek)|
|Ayles, W. H.||Callaghan, James||Davies, R J (Westhoughton)|
|Bacon, Miss A||Carmichael, James||Davies, S O (Merthyr)|
|Baird, J||Castle, Mrs. B A.||de Freitas, Geoffrey|
|Balfour, A||Champion, A J||Deer, G|
|Barnes, Rt Hon A J||Chetwynd, G R||Delargy, H J|
|Bartley, P||Clunie, J||Diamond, J.|
|Bevan, Rt Hon A (Ebbw Vale)||Cocks, F S||Dodds, N N|
|Bing, G H C||Coldrick, W||Donnelly, D|
|Blenkinsop, A||Collindridge, F||Driberg, T E N|
|Blyton, W R||Cooper, J (Deptford)||Dugdale, Rt Hon J (W Bromwish)|
|Boardman, H||Corbet, Mrs F K (Peckham)||Dye, S|
|Braddock, Mrs E M||Cove, W G||Ede, Rt Hon J C|
|Brockway, A Fenner||Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||Edwards, John (Brighouse)|
|Edwards, W J (Stepney)||Lee, F (Newton)||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvonshire)|
|Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.)||Lever, L. M (Ardwick)||Robertson, J. J. (Berwick)|
|Fernyhough, E.||Lewis, A. W. J. (West Ham N.)||Rogers, G H. R. (Kensington, N.)|
|Field, Capt. W. J||Lindgren, G. S||Ross, William (Kilmarnock)|
|Finch, H. J.||Logan, D. G.||Royle, C|
|Follick, M||MacColl, J. E.||Shackleton, E. A. A|
|Foot, M. M.||McGhee, H. G.||Shurmer, P L E|
|Forman, J. C.||McGovern, J.||Silverman, J (Erdington)|
|Fraser, T (Hamilton)||McInnes, J.||Silverman, S. S (Nelson)|
|Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H I N||McKay, J (Wallsend)||Simmons, C J|
|Ganley, Mrs. C. S||McLeavy, F.||Slater, J.|
|Gibson, C. W.||MacMillan, M. K. (Western Isles)||Smith, H. N. (Nottingham, S.)|
|Gilzean, A.||MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Gooch, E G.||Mainwaring, W. H.||Sparks, J. A.|
|Gordon-Walker, Rt. Hon. P C||Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E)||Strachey, Rt. Hon. J|
|Greenwood, Anthony W. J. (Rossendale)||Mann, Mrs J.||Sylvester, G. O.|
|Grenfell, D. R.||Manuel, A. C.||Taylor, H B (Mansfield)|
|Grey, C F||Mathers, Rt. Hon. George||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)|
|Griffiths, D. (Rother Valley)||Mellish, R. J.||Thomas, D. E. (Aberdare)|
|Griffiths, Rt. Hon. J (Llanelly)||Messer, F||Thomas, George (Cardiff)|
|Griffiths, W. D. (Exchange)||Middleton, Mrs. L.||Thomas, I. O. (Wrekin)|
|Gunter, R. J.||Mikardo, Ian||Thomas, I. R (Rhondda, W.)|
|Hale, J. (Rochdale)||Mitchison, G. R.||Thorneycroft, Harry (Clayton)|
|Hale, Leslie (Oldham, W.)||Moeran, E W.||Thurtle, Ernest|
|Hall, J. (Gateshead, W.)||Monslow, W.||Tilney, John|
|Hall, Rt. Hn. W. Glenvil (Colne V'll'y)||Moody, A. S.||Tomlinson, Rt. Hon. G|
|Hamilton, W. W.||Morgan, Dr. H. B||Tomney, F|
|Hannan, W.||Morley, R.||Turner-Samuels, M|
|Hardman, D. R||Mort, D. L||Ungoed-Thomas, A. L|
|Hardy, E. A.||Moyle, A.||Vernon, Maj W. F|
|Hargreaves, A.||Neal, H.||Viant, S. P.|
|Hastings, Dr. Somerville||Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon. P J||Wallace, H. W|
|Hayman, F. H||O'Brien, T||Watkins, T. E|
|Herbison, Miss M.||Oldfield, W. H.||Weitzman, D|
|Hewitson, Capt. M.||Oliver, G. H.||Wells, W. T (Walsall)|
|West, D. G.|
|Holmes, H E (Hornsworth)||Orbach, M.||Wheatley, Rt Hn John (Edinb'gh, E)|
|Houghton, Douglas||Padley, W. E.||White, H. (Derbyshire, N E)|
|Hoy, J.||Paling, Rt. Hon. Wilfred (Dearne V'lly)||Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W|
|Hudson, J. H. (Ealing, N.)||Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury)||Wigg, George|
|Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayr)||Pargiter, G. A.||Wilkins, W. A|
|Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Parker, J.||Willey, F. T. (Sunderland)|
|Irving, W J. (Wood Green)||Pearson, A.||Willey, O. G. (Cleveland)|
|Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G A.||Peart, T. F.||Williams, D. J (Neath)|
|Jeger, G. (Goole)||Popplewell, E.||Williams, Ronald (Wigan)|
|Johnston, Douglas (Paisley)||Porter, G.||Wilson, Rt. Hon J H. (Huyton)|
|Jones, Jack (Rotherham)||Price, M. Philips (Gloucestershire, W.)||Winterbottom, I (Nottingham, C.)|
|Jones, William Elwyn (Conway)||Proctor, W. T.||Yates, V. F.|
|Keenan, W.||Pursey, Comdr. H.||Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.|
|Kenyon, C.||Rankin, J.||Woods, Rev. G. S|
|Key, Rt. Hon. C. W||Reeves, J.|
|King, H M.||Reid, W. (Camlachie)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Kinghorn, Sqn.-Ldr. E||Rhodes, H.||Mr. Bowden and|
|Kinley, J.||Richards, R||Mr. Kenneth Robinson.|
|Lang, Rev. G.||Robens, A.|
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjuourn."—[ Mr. R. J. Taylor.]
I propose to raise the question of the supply of spectacles for three specific reasons. First, it is in the interest of my constituents who are my primary consideration; second, to safeguard the interest of the opticians who have got a responsibility to comply with the terms of the National Health Act, and at the same time satisfy their clients; and, third, because I wish to assist the Minister of Health in developing an efficient and effective medical service. I and my party both believe in the service, and if we have an opportunity to discuss the administration of that service we may be able to make it work more efficient and more smoothly.
The hon. Lady said just now that she and her party were in favour of the National Health Scheme. Is she aware that in the last Parliament, of which she was not a Member, her party voted against the Second and Third Readings of the National Health Seri ice Act?
All I can say to the hon. Gentleman is that we are not now on the hustings and that I have no intention of dealing with him as I would deal with an ordinary heckler in my constituency. I would remind the hon. Gentleman that that sort of misleading, stupid, and quite incorrect statement was made by supporters of his party during my election campaign. Fortunately, I was elected on the votes of my constituency, and I swept away my predecessor in the House of Commons. Therefore, the people of my constituency believed my story and not the story of the previous Member. If the hon. Gentleman wishes me to make an election speech I shall be delighted to do so, but all I would say now, in reply to hon. Members opposite, is that the speeches and views of my party convinced the electorates who supported us at the polls.The subject I wish to deal with tonight is very important. I have always enjoyed good heckling, but we need not indulge in that tonight. Some time ago, the Minister of Health said that the average delay for the supply of spectacles to those entitled to them under the National Health Service ran to about four months. One of the opticians in my constituency had very great difficulty in getting supplies, the delay running to 18 months in many cases. He wrote direct to the right hon. Gentleman pointing out that so far as he was concerned the relatively favourable position outlined by the right hon. Gentleman did not operate in his case. After a little delay a letter was received from the Department couched in these terms:
"Dear Sir,—You recently wrote to this Department concerning delays arising in deliveries of certain orders for spectacles placed with Messrs. Lenton & Rusby, Ltd. In all the circumstances I would suggest that you should consider withdrawing the orders in question and placing them with other prescription houses. It must, however, be emphasised that in making this suggestion no criticism of Messrs. Lenton & Rusby is implied. That firm's work on behalf of the National Health Service over the last two years is well-known and appreciated in this Department."
I should like to know why hon. Members on the opposite side of the House, who know nothing about this firm, should begin to be amused about it.
If I am one of the persons referred to, I should say that the implication of that letter is that the Ministry suggest that this optician would get better service if he went to another supplier.
The hon. Gentleman should wait until he has heard the Debate.
I am entitled at any stage to state what my reactions are, and, incidentally, without the permission of the hon. Member.
With my permission, it I may say so. I am delighted to give way to the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Bowen).
It seems to me only reasonable to infer—if I have good reason to amend my reaction at the appropriate time I certainly will—that the Ministry were suggesting that it might well be that the cause of the delay was the present source of supply and that, therefore, if the optician concerned changed his supplier that might do away with his great difficulties.
Perhaps the House will allow me to finish my speech. We have a great deal of time in hand, and if any hon. Gentleman wishes to contribute subsequently to the Debate the House will be delighted to hear his views.When the optician concerned sent me that letter from the Department I was seriously perturbed. In the first instance, the letter did not contain a single word of regret about the difficulty in which the optician found himself. Neither did the letter make any suggestion that the Minister would subsequently take steps to ensure that my constituents were supplied with their spectacles. The letter was couched in very formal terms, and, personally, I did not particularly wish that Whitehall attitude to be conveyed to my constituency in communications relating to the National Health Service. I should have been very much better pleased if the Department had written expressing regret at the delay, and saying that if the optician was in any further difficulty he should once again get in touch with the Ministry of Health. That was not in the letter. It was a very curt letter, and it did not convey to the optician that thus were other suppliers with supplies available, which is a very important point, because this optician had been waiting for a long time, going back some 18 months, for the supply of spectacles for some of his clients. If, on that letter, he had attempted to change his supplier he might have found himself at the bottom of a list, which would have increased the delay to those people who looked to him for the implementation of their orders. When that letter was sent to me I wrote to the Minister of Health protesting about it. In the reply I received from him he referred, of course, to the name of the optician, but I shall withhold the name. The Minister said that my optician's complaint
"was one of many received in the early part of the year. At a time when the arrears with other prescription manufacturers were beginning to decrease Messrs. Lenton and Rusby, with a weekly output of some 1,500 pairs of spectacles, had about 57,000 orders outstanding. This delay caused us deep concern and we did all we could to get better deliveries.
My comment on that was that some indication should have been given by the Department to the optician that other capacity was available. I disapproved of the terms of the letter, and that was really why I entered into this matter. Nevertheless, having received that letter from the right hon. Gentleman, I proceeded to find out whether the Department had got in touch with my optician and whether he had taken cognisance of the advice contained in the original letter and had endeavoured to place his order elsewhere. I once again wrote to the Minister, drawing attention to what I considered the unsatisfactory method of trying to meet the legitimate claims not only of the opticians concerned but of my constituents, who, naturally, were getting extremely agitated at having to wait such a long time for their spectacles. I got another letter from the Minister. I may tell hon. Members that I shook the Ministry pretty hard when I telephoned his Department. The Minister of Health does not mince his words and I do not mince mine either. The Minister wrote:In early June the case of Mr. ——'s outstanding prescriptions was brought with others to Messrs. Lenton and Rusby's notice with an offer from us to assist in getting supplies if lenses were the bottleneck. We had previously received promises from the manufacturers that lenses would be forthcoming to get Messrs. Lenton and Rusby out of their difficulties. The firm's reply to our offer was not satisfactory and the only practical advice we could give to opticians was to place their orders elsewhere. As Messrs. Lenton and Rusby were at this time threatening legal action against opticians for withdrawing orders our letter to Mr.—— was, of necessity, somewhat re-strained. The advice, however, was right, as Messrs. Lenton and Rusby themselves now admit, and some 16,000 orders have been withdrawn."
"The situation has been discussed by telephone with Mr. …, and he has been told that if he cares to withdraw any of these prescriptions and send them to this office, we will place them with firms which have offered to co-operate and give Mr. … quick delivery.
I want to say, on behalf of my optician, that once I got the Department in communication with him direct that Department was most helpful and did everything it possibly could to assist him. For that, both he and I are extremely grateful. I telegraphed to my optician and told him to act on the advice contained in the Minister's letter to me. I subsequently got from him a copy of a letter he had sent to Messrs. Lenton and Rusby, in which he said:I would add that over a period of many months my officers have had frequent meetings with the industry to find ways and means of reducing the number of arrears schemes have been put into operation which have proved very successful, but, unfortunately, Lenton and Rusby do not always co-operate with other manufacturers, and we have had to suggest to opticians who complained that they should consider cancelling very old orders and placing them elsewhere."
That was quite a courteous letter, sent after very great difficulty and very great delay. I now want to read a letter which bears out the Ministry's indication to me that they were having difficulty with Messrs. Lenton and Rusby. I received the communication as a registered letter from Messrs. Lenton and Rusby, after what I consider was an extremely courteous letter sent by my optician to that firm. I will read the letter which they sent to him, a copy of which they sent me."Within the last three days, I have received correspondence from Miss Irene Ward and the Minister of Health himself, in which he states that it may be advisable for me to withdraw my work from your firm and place it with some other firm who can complete the work more speedily. Further communication from the 'Supplies Department' of the Ministry of Health by telephone has been most helpful and I can now understand the position very clearly."
"We must object most strongly to your last paragraph—the Ministry of Health are perfectly aware that we have been working seven days a week and we can only state that this paragraph is grossly untrue, and that it is a great pity that the letter was not addressed to this firm rather than to me personally, otherwise the matter could have been dealt with in a totally different way.
and here follows a list of organisations. I am in some difficulty about attacking a private firm in this House. I know that they had very great difficulty indeed, and I hope an hon. Friend of mine will emphasise the difficulties of the firm. I would state, however, straight away, that it is quite monstrous of any firm deliberately to refrain from allowing people to withdraw orders which, under the terms of the National Health Service Act, must be placed, when that firm is not in a position to deal with those orders. Whatever the difficulties of Messrs. Lenton and Rusby may have been—and I sympathise with them very much indeed—I do not consider that they were serving the interests of their firm, or opticians in general, of the Ministry of Health, or of my constituents—which, after all, is a most important matter—by threatening legal action against opticians who were trying to protect those whom they are supposed to serve under the National Health Act. So far as I know, the story has now been told, and the position has been straightened out. My constituents will very shortly be receiving their outstanding orders; but there are just two points that I want to make. I hope that, in future, the supplies department of the Ministry of Health, when there is any hold-up, will go very closely into the matter to see what they can do to be of assistance. The closer the co-operation, the better the relationship, the more friendly the communication, the better will the Health Service be. That, after all, is what I and my hon. Friends want. I am bound to say that I find it most extraordinary that the Minister of Health, who is not lacking in courage, should try to safeguard his own interests and to throw over my optician and my constituents. I take very great exception indeed to his attitude in that matter. It angers me immensely that an optician of high repute in my constituency, who had served——It is grossly unfair, attacking the head staff of a very large firm like this, by addressing this letter to me personally, which you know, legally, have no redress. No doubt you will inform Miss Irene Ward, M.P., that we are also taking this matter up through the following"—
Will the hon. Lady explain how we have thrown him over? We seem to have saved him.
The hon. Gentleman is not being very wise in making that interjection. What the Minister did was to safeguard himself against unpleasant action by Messrs. Lenton and Rusby and endeavour, at the same time, to persuade my optician to withdraw the order. If he had done that and had been prosecuted the hon. Gentleman's Department would not have said a single word in support of the action taken by my optician. That was made perfectly plain in the original letter which went from his Department to my optician, and that is what I am complaining about.I think that the Department has a very legitimate complaint against the manufacturers concerned. In a matter of this kind surely it should fall to the Minister of Health to close with the manufacturer. If the optician had been prosecuted, surely the Ministry of Health could have told the story in court and he would then have had all the support of those people who do not like to see these delays in the National Health Service. Surely no right hon. or hon. Gentleman would wish to try to shake himself free from an unpleasant reaction, place the responsibility on a working optician and say to him, "That is your only redress, but do not come to me if you want any help." I am told that a telephone conversation took place after I had protested to the right hon. Gentleman and that it was said over the telephone that if the optician got into difficulty with Messrs. Lenton and Rushy he could not look for any support or help from the Department. I do not consider that that is playing the game and I take very great exception to it. What is more, when we have as Minister of Health a right hon. Gentleman who is so outspoken, I should have thought that he would have had a little more courage and that he could have closed with Messrs. Lenton and Rusby and said, "You do your worst and I will let the country know how you have refused to co-operate in trying to get these orders dealt with at the earliest possible moment." I find it extraordinarily queer that this "little bit of vermin" should be the person who advocates a firm stand when a private concern behaves badly and that this great Minister of Health, who is always fulminating about the country, has not the courage, when opportunity arises, to close with an unsatisfactory firm and come out on the side of the small man and my constituents. Subject to my hearing the Government's reply, I can only hope that if, in future, a similar occurrence comes to the notice of the Department or to the notice of an hon. Member we shall have the courage to remember that we have a responsibility to people in the National Health Service to give them what they are entitled to under the great scheme to which all parties have paid a contribution.
While I entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Miss Irene Ward) on the importance of hurrying up the supply of spectacles, I have been rather more fortunate in my dealings with this firm, having always found them extremely courteous and extremely willing to do their best to overcome the delays and difficulties, and there is no doubt that there have been many delays and difficulties. I know that some of my constituents have been waiting sometimes for a year and sometimes longer for their spectacles and that in many cases their health has been impaired, and I suppose that in many cases there may have been a measurable loss of production. But I think that some of the heat which has been engendered between Messrs. Lenton and Rusby, the Ministry and others may be due to the various controls and frustrations put upon the firm and upon all the industry.The important thing is to get the spectacles delivered with the least possible delay. First, I should like to have an assurance from the Government that there is sufficient capacity in the country for the production of these spectacles without unreasonable delay. Secondly, I should like to be assured that enough apprentices are entering the trade. This firm has told me that since the Act came into force 30 per cent. of their trained personnel have left. I have not time to go into the reasons for that now. Thirdly, if the Government want these spectacles produced, they must see that these firms are given the necessary licences to bring their factories up to date, and I should like an assurance also to this effect. This factory has been waiting since 1939 to build flats for its employees and it can get no satisfaction from the Government Departments concerned. The road in front of the works, which is considered to be one of the best light industrial units in the country, was scheduled for widening in 1939, and this work has not been done in spite of the firm selling the land at a nominal price for the purpose. Their Waingate premises were destroyed by enemy action in December, 1940, the home of this firm for over 100 years. Not one brick has been laid yet. It must be pointed out that part of the blame must fall on the Minister. If he helped in some degree in this way, we should get the spectacles delivered very quickly. I should be glad to have assurances that there is capacity in the country through this and other firms for the spectacles to be delivered on time, that sufficient apprentices are being attracted to the trade—it takes four years to train an apprentice—and, if not, that some way will be found to attract them, and that the Government will not impede the production of spectacles by refusing building licences to the firms concerned.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Miss Irene Ward) for raising this matter in the House tonight, although I admit that it is a little odd that as a representative of a party which vigorously supports private enterprise she should come to the House with the claim that the Ministry of Health ought to interfere more vigorously with private enterprise and assist private enterprise out of its difficulties. In effect, that is what she is asking us to do.It seems to me that there is a limit to the amount that the Ministry can undertake in doing the work of the optician, and, in some cases, of the manufacturer, for him, because the contract is a contract between the optician and whoever may be the manufacturer with whom the optician decides to place his orders, just as in any other form of business. It appears to me that it would be quite wrong for the Ministry to interfere with that contract. Whatever the Ministry might wish to do and whatever advice they might give, it is quite clear that any responsibility with regard to the contract between the optician and the manufacturer must remain between those two parties. There is no question at all about the position of the Ministry in this. I quite agree that we are anxious in the Ministry—we have shown it in this case—to help in every possible way we can both the opticians and the manufacturers to overcome the difficulties, but at the same time we must expect both the opticians and the manufacturers to do a bit for themselves. In this instance it appears to us that both parties might have done a bit more in effective private enterprise, instead of leaving as much as they did to the Ministry of Health to do for them. I am glad to be able to say tonight in reply to the hon. Lady that, thanks largely to the efforts of the Ministry of Health, and those much maligned people the civil servants within the Ministry, we have now within a remarkably short space of time nearly overtaken the backlog of orders in this field. The problem now remaining is the problem of those particular types of lenses which still may give us trouble for some months ahead. However, as far as the simple types of lenses are concerned, we have now got to a reasonable delivery date throughout the country. So far as special types are concerned, bifocals and others, delivery dates are steadily improving month by month. There is no doubt, therefore, that we can give the assurance asked for by the hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. E. Martin Smith), that there is sufficient capacity within the country now to deal with the demands we are receiving, both for the simple and for the more complex types of lenses. In the early days after the scheme came into operation, orders were often placed with comparative newcomers to the trade on the manufacturing side who would accept only a simple type of lens that could be manufactured on a mass-production basis. These newcomers handed back the bulk of their more difficult orders, which almost inevitably fell to be dealt with by a comparatively limited number of old-established firms, of which Messrs. Lenton and Rusby were one. They have had a good reputation in the trade for the quality of their work, and I do not wish to make any complaint in that respect. It was inevitable that these old-established firms, getting a much higher proportion of the more difficult types of lenses to manufacture, had much later delivery dates than other firms who were merely dealing with the comparatively simple types of lenses. We managed to secure an agreement between the bulk of the manufacturers of lenses to help each other. We encouraged the manufacturers, particularly those who were members of their own association, to join together to try to help each other out of difficulties in certain types of lenses. Unfortunately, Messrs. Lenton and Rusby were not prepared to join in that agreement. Of course, it was entirely up to them whether they did so or not, but their decision not to do so undoubtedly added to their difficulties. It meant that while other firms by co-operative effort were able to overcome many of their most difficult cases, this firm still had them mounting up on their order book. It is true that we received complaints about the deliveries of this firm from many quarters. In addition to the cases mentioned by the hon. Lady, there were complaints from other parts of the country. It was obvious, from the number of orders outstanding, that something would have to be done to help to get deliveries. Therefore, we suggested to the firm that if there was anything on which we could help them, such as securing their supplies, we should be willing to give any assistance we could. Unfortunately, I cannot say that they were particularly helpful in response to that letter. Then we suggested to them that, as an emergency measure, they should consider allowing the opticians who had orders with them to withdraw some part of their orders. Although at first that produced a rather unwelcome response, nevertheless after a good deal of correspondence—and the file is a particularly lengthy one—they agreed that this was the sensible thing to do. We suggested—and we did no more than suggest—to this optician in the constituency of the hon. Lady, and in one, if not two, other cases, that they might follow the course of withdrawing orders. We assumed that the optician concerned would know his trade to some extent, and possibly be able to consult his own association, in order to put orders with other firms which had not quite the same difficulty. We must assume that opticians know something of the trade and the different manufacturers concerned. We cannot accept the responsibility of having to spoon feed opticians generally. It would be quite impossible if the Ministry were expected to find suitable manufacturers for every optician in the country. We could not do it. When, however, we found that this optician was not able to find alternative channels for his trade, we took the further steps described by the hon. Lady, and in the result we have been able to place the outstanding orders for him. I understand that in many cases delivery has been secured, and that for those which are still outstanding delivery will shortly be made. The result is that this optician may have secured some advantage over other opticians for whom we have not taken this action, and, indeed, who have not asked us to do so, but have taken their own measures. I should say about the firm in question that they sometimes write peculiar letters not only to the hon. Lady but to the Ministry of Health, and all over the country as far as I can find out. In one letter quoted by the hon. Lady they said that they were, in addition, taking it up with Members of Parliament through the Central Conservative Office. Whether they did so, I do not know. We have not had any further approach from that quarter. When the hon. Lady said that the optician sent a courteous letter, she did not read out the last paragraph, which had quite a sting to it.
That was simply because the letter was so long. Would the hon. Gentleman kindly read it out, because I would like it to be on record.
I was just about to do so. The last paragraph reads:
I think the firm might reasonably have been a bit upset about that, as it was attempting to meet them as rapidly as possible. As I have said, they have sent, not only in this case but in almost one hundred other cases, most odd letters. I do not want to criticise that, because hon. Members on all sides of the House from time to time write odd letters as well, and therefore one must not criticise a firm particularly about that. The point which, we are all agreed, matters is that the constituents of the hon. Lady either have got delivery of their spectacles or are about to get delivery of them, probably, in some cases, sooner than if their supply had been left to the normal operations of private enterprise. In these questions we must expect the trade itself to take a good part of the action that is needed. We have provided the trade with a great opportunity, both of service to the country as a whole and to do business greater than they might have expected before. It is reasonable to expect both opticians and manufacturers to take advantage of this opportunity and to show that they are really capable of that energetic competitive spirit, which, we are always told, is vigorously pulsating through the mass of individual private firms. I am not sure that that has been so in the firms in this particular instance, although I pay credit to the many firms which have done very well and have helped us to secure the very much quicker rate of delivery which now exists."I trust, therefore, that you will be good enough to return to me all the unfinished work you have in my name, as, apparently, very little effort is being made to complete these long outstanding orders which now date back some sixteen months or more."
Congress, Sheffield (Admission Of Foreigners)
Although I do not suppose for a moment that I shall obtain the indulgence of the House, and I certainly do not claim it, this is in a sense a maiden speech. In the 15 years that I have been a Member of this House, I do not think that I have ever before availed myself of the old rule which permitted a Member of Parliament, on giving due notice and with your permission, Sir, to raise in an Adjournment Debate an administrative matter in which he was dissatisfied with the answer to a Question or a statement made by the Minister in charge.I remember, however, that I once moved the Adjournment of the House on a matter of definite and urgent public importance, and on that occasion although I was heard with the characteristic sympathy and generosity which the House always offers to a minority view, I had little or, at any rate, only limited actual support from Members of the House. On that occasion, however, the events within two or three years showed that I was abundantly right and the Government more than abundantly wrong. Perhaps on this occasion, whatever the alignment of forces may turn out to be, the verdict of history may turn out to be as I would anticipate in what I have to say. The subject which I wish to raise is the statement made by the Home Secretary today with regard to the circumstances in which so many visas were refused to aliens, and so many aliens who did not require visas at all were turned away at the ports, as to render a farce not worth proceeding with, the Congress at Sheffield which was called by its sponsors the "Peace Congress." I think there is one thing on which the House tonight may be unanimous. We are not concerned with the merits or demerits of the Congress. It is not part of my case that those who sponsored the Congress or those who proposed to attend it are the only friends of peace in the world or that the policies that they came here to defend are the only policies on which the peace of the world depends. I recognise that those sponsors and most of those who were to come here for the purpose of the Congress, and those of our own citizens who proposed to attend it, not all of them perhaps, but in many cases, were people who came to defend the policies during the past five years and now of the Soviet Union and her allies and her satellites. They believed, or professed to believe—and it is not for me to say which—that on those policies, and on those policies alone, depends the peace of the world, and that all others are warmongers, imperialists, and the enemies of the peace of the world. However mistaken the view may be, however deluded it may be, however insincere may be some—or, for all I know, many—of those who share it, it is not a crime in this country to hold that view. It is not an offence to express it. It is not part of our law and is no part of the administrative function of any Minister to prevent those who hold that view or any other view, provided they keep within the law, from meeting in any lawful place, saying what they have a mind to say, persuading those who may be open to such persuasion, without let or hindrance by anyone. Today, these rights of free speech, free assembly, the right to know, the right to utter, the right to argue freely according to conscience, which are the very basis on which the existence of a free society depends, are under fire all over the world, and under fire very largely and most dangerously in just those countries whose foreign policies were to be defended at Sheffield. Our business in this country, and, more than all, our business in this House, is to see to it that wherever else in the world those rights may go down, here they shall endure. If we have to defend them, tragically enough, in another world war, we shall do so. But they are not to be defended only from attack outside. We have to defend them ourselves.
and those liberties have most importantly to be defended when they are sought to be exercised, not by a majority, but by a minority. A majority can always look after themselves. There has never been any difficulty in preserving the right of the majority to say what it likes and to do what it pleases. Liberty consists largely in the right to dissent, and not the right to dissent in secret; not to dissent by the leave or licence of anyone, but to dissent in the open. May I say to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, in view of one of the things he said this afternoon, that the right of free speech includes the freedom to listen? The right of free speech is not only the right of the speaker on the platform to say, but the right of the audience to hear what he says, if he wishes to say it, and if anyone refuses to a British audience the right to hear what a foreigner wishes to say to them if they wish to hear it, he is as much denying the right of free speech for the audience as for the speaker. Whatever we may think about this particular Congress, whatever we may think about the action of my right hon. Friend over the past few days, I hope that so far I have said nothing with which any Member of this House would disagree. One or two things said by the Home Secretary this afternoon must have been heard by the House with considerable astonishment. He did not forbid this Congress. Administratively, of course, he had no power to forbid it. He could have invited the House to pass an Act to make it unlawful. He did not do so. I would not have expected him to do so and I would not have expected the House of Commons to have given him such an Act, if he had asked for it. Therefore, we start from the basis that the Congress itself was a lawful assembly and my right hon. Friend admitted in so many words that any British subject could have attended it without laying himself open to any kind of proceedings, or without my right hon. Friend, or anybody else, having the right to interfere with him in any way. But he said that right is limited to British subjects. What the British subject might have done, what our own citizens might have done in Sheffield, although lawful, although beyond any legal reproach or any legal attack, was, nevertheless, something which the Home Secretary, by virtue of the powers reposed in him under the Aliens Acts, is entitled to prevent an alien from doing. This is a strange doctrine. I should have thought that it was in violent and diametrical opposition to five centuries of British constitutional history. When all over the world slavery was an honoured and respected social institution, and when we sang that our "Britons never shall be slaves," we were not so insular as my right hon. Friend was this afternoon, because we did not limit it to Britain. It was the doctrine of our Common Law, asserted, not by Left-wing revolutionaries, but by highly Conservative judicial officers, that when a man set foot on the soil of this land he was free. Lord Mansfield did not stop to ask whether the escaped slave who landed in our country was a British subject or not. No one, so far as I know, until my right hon. Friend this afternoon, has ever before sought to justify the limiting of the freedom of a man, either in this country or entitled otherwise to come here, on the ground that he was not a British subject. We have as a nation put our name twice within recent years to international Conventions on Human Rights, one of the most important of which was the right of free speech. One such declaration we signed under the authority of the United Nations and we even sought—I have for- gotten now whether with success or not—to make it a condition precedent to a nation joining the United Nations that it should sign—and not merely sign but implement—the Convention on Human Rights. Only a few months ago when the Council of Europe met—or was it the Committee of Ministers?—there was another rather more limited—but not limited by in any way reducing the rights of free speech or free assembly—agreement or declaration about human rights, which formed a large part of the discussion in our debate yesterday afternoon, in the framing of which and in the passage of which through those committees and that Assembly the right hon. and learned Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) had a distinguished share. We did not say then, "Free speech, yes, but only for British subjects," and it will be a sad day for the leadership of this country in maintaining these liberties for the world if it ever goes forth that our country, our Government and—may I say without bitterness but with deep regret?—this Government, should seek now to say that free speech, free assembly, the right to say what you like no matter how hateful it may be to the ears of others, is a right we claim for ourselves, but are not willing to accord to others. There happens to have been an occasion on which the House was invited to make precisely the distinction between British subjects and aliens in matters of liberty which my right hon. Friend sought to make this afternoon and on which his whole justification depends in the administrative action taken over the past few days. It was in 1938, when the Ten Minutes Rule was still in operation and it was a Bill introduced under the Ten Minutes Rule. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I think hon. Members might reserve their cheers until they hear what the Bill was and what happened to it. The Motion was:"Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty"—
in order to keep those persons out—"That leave he given to bring in a Bill to prevent the participation by aliens in assemblies for the purpose of propagating blasphemies or atheistic doctrines or in other activities calculated to interfere with the established religious institutions of Great Britain, to amend the Aliens Restriction (Amendments) Act …"—
I will tell the House in a moment who introduced that Bill, but it was opposed, not by an atheist, or a secularist, or an agnostic. It was opposed by a very distinguished religious Member of this House, whom many of us present will remember, I have no doubt—Mr. Edmund Harvey, a member of the Society of Friends. He opposed it in a speech from which I propose to read two or three extracts to the House:"and for other purposes connected therewith."
and I am sure my right hon. Friend—"If we look at the history of our own country we find that aliens came in, to quote the Motion of the hon. and gallant Member, to further activities calculated to interfere with the established religious institutions of the country.' St. Augustine of Canterbury was an alien. St. Paulinus of York, when he went to King Edwin, was an alien coming to upset the religious institutions of the country. I am sure that the hon. and gallant Member"—
He said earlier:"will not consider that St. Augustine or St. Paulinus were mistaken in their mission or that their work was not blessed."
Then came this sentence, which I commend to my right hon. Friend and to the House:"These early Christians were known by their opponents as atheists; they were believed to be atheists; they were regarded as the enemies of the human race. … Their weapon was the weapon of truth."
At the end he said, in a reference to Milton:"I maintain that truth needs no other shield or weapon than itself. Whether it be political error or religious error, the right way to deal with it is by the weapons of argument and appeals to the highest. The only safeguard that truth needs is the light in which and by which it lives."
"We need to remember his words today:
'Give me the liberty to know, to utter and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties.'
There was a Division on that Motion, which I regret to say was carried by a very narrow majority. That meant that leave was given to bring in the Bill. I rejoice to say that it made no further progress. I regret that all those who voted for it were Members of the Conservative Party.That is a liberty which we ought to be proud and glad to share with men of every other nation."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th June, 1938; Vol. 337, c. 1725–30.]
There were two Labour Members, one of whom is now Lord Gibson, from Greenock, and the other who is a legal gentleman who got a sheriffdom or something of that kind.
With those two exceptions, the Labour Party then in the House voted against the Bill, and among those who went into the Division Lobby against it I delight to see recorded the name of the Home Secretary. The House may like me to complete the story by saying who introduced it. It was Captain Ramsay. I do not think I need add anything to that.If, then, the Home Secretary is on unsound grounds, as I hope I have established, in holding that although the Congress might have been lawful for British subjects, it was lawful for him to keep out aliens, or attempt to do so, how is his action to be justified? Indeed, on what principle, even accepting his grounds for discrimination, are we to explain some the things he did? How comes it about that M. Picasso is admitted and M. Shostakovitch kept out? I am no expert in these matters, but I understand that both these men are at the head of their respective professions. M. Picasso, although his work does not appeal to all sections, is recognised as being perhaps the most creative, as he is certainly the most provocative, artist of his day. I understand that Shostakovitch holds much the same position in the world of creative music as Picasso holds in the world of art. How did my right hon. Friend distinguish between these two? Both were Communists—open declared Communists. Why was Shostakovitch a greater danger in Sheffield than Picasso? Take another two cases. In spite of what is often said, there is still some religious activity going on in Bulgaria and in the Soviet Union. Indeed, the variety is the same. Those who are Christian religious worshippers in those countries belong to what is known as the Greek Orthodox Church. The Archimandrite is the head of the Orthodox Church in Bulgaria. My right hon. Friend granted him a visa. The head of the same Church in Moscow, known, I think, as the Metropolitan Bishop of Moscow, was refused a visa. Why? On what ground, what was the discrimination, who decided it, on what information and for what purpose? I know that my right hon. Friend explained, in answer to supplementary questions this afternoon, that on the representations of the Archbishop of Canterbury he changed his mind.
I did not say the Archbishop of Canterbury. [HON. MEMBERS: "The Dean."] May I say that representations from the Dean of Canterbury would have been no recommendation. What I said was that I had representations from two members of the Episcopal bench.
I am not pressing my right hon. Friend to say who they were, I apologise for my error; I hope it will not do anyone any harm. I understand that on the representations of two bishops of the Church of England, my right hon. Friend changed his mind and decided to let the Metropolitan in. I should have thought that made my hon. Friend's position worse rather than better, because he appears in the end to have overthrown all the security information that he had had from all the sources open to him which had led him to refuse the visa in the first place because two bishops of the Church of England came to him and said. "The Metropolitan, whom we have never seen in our lives, is all right. Let him in."
I am sorry if I am wrong. My right hon. Friend did not give us much information. He did tell us that the visa was at first refused, that he changed his mind and that in the end a visa was granted, although I think it was too late to be acted upon. He told us that the reason he changed his mind was the representations of two bishops of the Church of England. I do not understand it.There was the case of Professor Joliot-Curie. Again, he is a man at the head of his calling, one of the greatest scientists of this century, and not a man who could be accused of being hostile to this country. He is a man whose researches in physics led him very far along the path of atomic energy and a man who, at the beginning of the war, placed all his secrets unreservedly at the disposal of His Majesty's Government and sent his principal assistant here to see that we understood his scientific discoveries properly and made proper use of them. Since France is a country which does not need a visa and, therefore, none was applied for and none was refused, I ask my right hon. Friend who decided that Professor Joliot-Curie should be turned back at the port? Was it left to the immigration officer to decide, or was he given instructions? If those instructions were given, on what grounds were they given and whose instructions were they? Did my right hon. Friend himself make up his mind that to let Professor Joliot-Curie in would be dangerous, that millions of our citizens would be seduced from their allegiance if Professor Joliot-Curie were allowed to land? Did he decide? If he did not, who did? When was it decided, and why was not the decision communicated to Professor Joliot-Curie before he left France? If it was necessary to prevent him from coming in—and who can understand why?—that decision should surely have been taken at a very high level indeed and communicated to the gentleman concerned, rather than that he should be submitted to the indignity of a two-hour interrogation by a policeman who, probably, had never heard his name. It is unnecessary to act in this way to protect the good name of this country. What about the expediency of all this?
Is the Frenchman, whom my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) has been describing to us, the same Frenchman who was engaged on atomic work and was removed by the French Government after he had made a statement in public that his first allegiance was to Russia?
I do not think the last part of that question is correct. The first part is. Undoubtedly, he was the head of atomic research activities in France, and that is not surprising in the least. It is quite true he was dismissed from his employment because of his political opinions, but what inference does my hon. Friend the Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Daines) wish to be drawn from that?
Face the facts, that is all.
Surely facts are only of interest to a debate in so far as they are relevant, and to what issue is this relevant? The professor is carrying on today in France, and has been for years, as a free man, all the activities he would have carried on in Sheffield. Why is it safe for France to allow him to do it but unsafe for Sheffield?But I was asking about the expediency of this. I understand my right hon. Friend would have acted in this way with extreme reluctance and only under pressure of what he would regard as dire State necessity. But is he sure that, considered on that much narrower and lower plane, his action really can be defended? He said he was going to exclude at the ports, or by refusing visas, all those whose integrity was in doubt. I know those are not his words, but I think they are a fair paraphrase of what he wanted the House to understand. He wanted the House to understand that all those who came legitimately and in good faith, for the purpose of expressing ideas, however unpopular, would be admitted, but that those who came for ulterior, illegitimate purposes would be excluded. Does that mean that my right hon. Friend is giving a world-wide testimonial to all those whom he let in? Are we now to understand that there were a lot of distinguished people who genuinely believed in this Congress? If the Home Secretary says "I am keeping out those who are wrong," he lays himself open to simple people like myself who infer that those he lets in are not wrong. Therefore, he has given all those whom he has let in a testimonial by the British Government to their integrity. [An HON. MEMBER: "According to their harmlessness."] On my right hon. Friend's basis of discrimination, integrity and harmlessness were part of the same thing. He said he would let in all those who were harmless, and keep out those who would do harm.
Does not my hon. Friend agree that the authorities responsible for calling the Congress have decided that the persons allowed into this country by the Home Secretary were not the desired type of person who would merit carrying on the conference, and they disregarded these people to such an extent that they decided to hold the Congress somewhere else?
Perhaps these people do not attach the same value to my right hon. Friend's testimonial as they ought to. I personally attach great value to it, and I see no reason why my right hon. Friend should have gone out of his way, holding the view of the Congress that he does, to advertise the harmlessness and integrity of a large part of the Congress. That is one point.The other point is this. We in this country, with our free and full access to the facts, our right to exchange opinions, to meet and discuss and argue, may know what nonsense it is to pretend that this country or other countries in the Western World are anxious for a new world war which would, I think, by common consent, be suicidal for the whole of mankind. We are rightly conscious of our own integrity in that matter, and we find it difficult to understand that there are other people whose opinions are not so clear upon the subject. It is not their fault. They are living behind an iron curtain. They are not allowed to know the facts. They are not allowed to have such debates as we are having in this House tonight. They are allowed to know only what the totalitarian Governments wish them to know, and they have been pursuing most intensive propaganda within their own countries in order to persuade their own peace-loving populations—I believe all ordinary people are peace-loving, wherever they live—that we are the enemies of peace and they are the friends of peace. They have no means whatever of knowing other than that. What has my right hon. Friend done? He has not allowed them to come and see how we live. He has not allowed them to come and read our newspapers. What he has done is to make it technically and practically impossible for the Congress to be held, and that was his almost declared intention. What use will be made of this by the totalitarian States?
I will give way in a moment. What use, beneficial to us, will be made of this? What is there in this to enable us to say to them, "Look how much better is our practice than yours. Look how firmly founded we are in the merits of the democratic way of life. Look how we love liberty, when we give it to anyone, even those who would like to undermine it and who despise it." My right hon. Friend has presented these people with the best propaganda point they have had since the end of the war—or, indeed, since long before it; and in order to achieve what? In order to enable people who have already held this kind of Congress almost everywhere in the world, on both sides of the Iron Curtain and even in New York, to say that the only country where they could not hold a Congress about peace was the democratic Socialist country of Great Britain.
Is the hon. Gentleman arguing, and does he believe, that if these men had been permitted to come to Sheffield, to see our way of life and to read our newspapers, it would have influenced by one iota their beliefs and their aims?
I do not know, but I think it would have done them a lot more good than it would have done to Sheffield, and it would have done them a lot more good than it would have done Sheffield harm; and in our country it is a risk which we could very well, advisably, have taken and which we ought to have taken.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that three weeks ago I put a Question to the Home Secretary on the subject? In fairness to the right hon. Gentleman I would point out that he told me he had no intention of stopping free speech, when I asked him a question about holding the Congress in Sheffield. I was on the telephone to Sheffield yesterday and I can say that the people of Sheffield are completely indifferent to the whole proposition.
I am very glad to hear that our telephone administration has so much improved under the Labour Government that the hon. Gentleman has been enabled to talk on the telephone, within the space of 24 hours, to all the people of Sheffield.
But let me assume, as I very willingly do, that he is right.
I am right.
I agree with the assumption that all the people in Sheffield were indifferent, if he means that they were indifferent to any kind of propaganda that this Congress could have put out to them. I agree with him there, and I think that was a good reason for not stopping the Congress. If the hon. Gentleman means, however, that they were indifferent to the stopping of the Congress, then I do not agree with him and I should be ashamed to think that in a great city in our country anyone, or any large number of people, would be indifferent about freedom of speech. I know some people think that my right hon. Friend is not a good Socialist, although they believe he is a good Radical.
I was a Socialist before the hon. Member was born.
I said that some people thought he was not a good Socialist, not that I thought so. I know he is passionately a supporter of peace. He defended it in the most difficult circumstances in the East End of London, defended it before people not so respectable and not so distinguished as some of the people to whom he refused admission. I say that on all these grounds, on grounds of constitutional principle, on grounds of expediency, on grounds of the things involved in the defence of democracy in these difficult years, the action which my right hon. Friend took was wrong and, however he may feel about it, it is felt by many of us to have been an abuse of the rights reposed in him.
In case there should be some misunderstanding in this Debate I should like to make it perfectly clear that there has never been a large number of Communists in Sheffield, and I think that that is still the case today. I should like to say something in support of the Home Secretary, because I think the criticism of him by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) was a little unfair.I asked the Home Secretary, some weeks ago, to bear in mind the feelings of the people in Sheffield, and I pointed out that they were not biased one way or the other so far as the Peace Congress was concerned. The people of Sheffield are no less in favour of world peace than those in any other part of this country. Moreover, I think that every hon. Member, no matter in what part of the House he sits, is anxious that we should get a settlement of these difficulties at the earliest possible opportunity. I simply rise to say, in fairness to the Home Secretary, that he said to me that in his great desire to allow freedom of speech he did not propose to take any action to stop this Peace Congress from being held in Sheffield. I believe that if it was possible for him to take that line and allow freedom of speech it was the best advertisement to the whole world from this House that the British Home Secretary had no desire to interfere with freedom of speech. The conference was arranged. I should have thought that the problem might have been tackled the other way, and that those people who had intended to come might have learnt first whether they would be likely to be able to come, instead——
I can help the hon. Member about this. I understand that full lists were provided for my right hon. Friend long before, and that right up to the last minute his Department refused to say who would be allowed to come and who would be refused.
I take it from the hon. Member that lists were submitted. I should like to point out to the hon. Member that I take it that the Home Secretary cannot deal with any list until he has definite applications to come to this country, and that it would be quite wrong of him to tick off names indiscriminately in a list, and say, "We will allow these people to come in." I think that would be beyond his powers as Home Secretary.I think that, perhaps, a great deal of unnecessary publicity has been given to this matter. I listened to a large part of the speech of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne, and I believe that the publicity he gave to the conference did not do any good. [HON. MEMBERS: "What are you doing?"] I am endeavouring to tell the House that the peace delegates have left Sheffield quite unmoved——
They must have moved if they have left.
I should like to remind the hon. Member that these delegates have moved themselves. The Home Secretary has not moved them. I think the Home Secretary has tried to do his best in a very difficult situation. He has endeavoured to make clear to the whole world, by his answers on the Floor of this House, that he is still willing to stand by freedom of speech, and I think he has done his best in very difficult circumstances.
The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) put up a very sound theoretical case for the ordinary conception of the right of a person to propagate anything in which he believes. His speech was very capable, but I disagree fundamentally with some of his conclusions. [HON. MEMBERS: "Shame."] It is not a question of shame; it is a question of conviction. I differ from members of the party to which I belong on this issue, because I would go any length to defend any person in propagating any doctrine, no matter how obnoxious it may be to me or to the nation. In every circumstance I would see that he was afforded ample opportunity to express his point of view.On the Bill introduced by Captain Ramsay, under the Ten Minutes Rule, to which reference has been made, I was opposed to the granting of the power in that Measure. I hated what Captain Ramsay and his friends regarded as being the truth that they wanted to come here to expound. But, hating their point of view as I did, I was against any attempt to prevent them from expressing that point of view. In my estimation—this is what I decided—those people at that time had behind them an organisation which sought to take by the throat every person in the world who believed in the fundamental right of free speech, to destroy their institutions and to put them up against the wall or into a concentration camp if they tried to express their conviction. No matter how obnoxious it may be to some of my hon. Friends, I would have preferred a simple proposition to ban the conference which it was proposed should meet in Sheffield, because it was organised by the Cominform for the purpose of furthering their process of weakening democracy all over the world, and trying to create the illusion that they are the custodians of peace and that the rest of us, in this country and elsewhere in the world, are the war-mongers who seek to destroy the Soviet Union. If men want to come into this country to use a platform, to use pamphlets and a kept Press, and to lie about and to slander everybody in the country, I cannot understand why we should give them the opportunity to do so. If anybody wanted to come into any of our houses, not only to use that house for the purpose of lying about us and slandering us but to evict us and take possession of the house, we would never tolerate them in the house for two minutes. We are not here considering, according to the old Socialist and radical conception of personal freedom, the right of a person to express his point of view. We are considering a highly organised conspiracy. Today, at Question Time, the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) suggested—from his own point of view quite sincerely, I think—that we must believe in the ability of the British people to resist the Communist blandishments or propaganda. I do not quote his exact words, but that is the gist of what he said. In Czechoslovakia they thought that; they thought they could depend upon the individual to defend the right, and they allowed an underground conspiracy, by every kind of subterfuge, to get the nation by the throat. They came out into the open, but they never became a majority in Czechoslovakia. In no country in the world have they secured a majority when it was put to the nation to decide whether they approved of the ends they advocated. They seized the nation by the throat. I believe that there are a large number of hon. Members of this party who do not realise that. The world is in the direst peril at this moment. No one knows whether or not this conspiracy will succeed. I am afraid that it will succeed, and one of the things that will help it to succeed is the creation of the illusion that we here are suppressing the right of free speech and the propagation of fundamental truths. The Home Secretary, in his wisdom and on behalf of the Government, decided to allow certain persons into Britain. From that angle, I believe it was the wrong policy to pursue. Let us examine it. The Government allowed in certain people to attend the Congress. Why is the Congress not being held? The answer is, because the conspirators were not allowed in; because they, who are the villains of the piece, were kept out. The Congress could not take place because the arch-criminals were kept at the ports under some form of decree or regulation and were not allowed to enter the country. My hon. Friend said that a very distinguished man from France was not allowed to enter this country. He was so distinguished, as one of my hon. Friends mentioned when he interjected, that the French Government, on the statement that his first allegiance was to the Soviet Union, removed him from the post he occupied, a post of a highly secret character connected with atomic plant. From that angle, if France who, to all intents and purposes, is part of the democratic outfit, decided that he was dangerous there, why should we think otherwise? Any man who says that he is prepared to give his first allegiance to the Soviet Union is a potential traitor and saboteur. It may be that some men would fall down on the job and that, at the last minute, they would step back before contributing to the degradation of the betrayal of their own country. But we must deal with the facts as we see them. Realising the plan that is afoot in Moscow to defeat the rest of the world, are we to allow in this country the Northern Korean peacemongers and the peacemongers from Tibet and China, who have guns in their hands at this moment massacreing human beings because they stand for certain fundamental rights of the citizen? I must part with this theoretical case of the right of the person. Of course, it is sound, but I thought it ironical when my hon. Friend congratulated the Home Secretary on his defence of free speech in the East End of London. I wish to say something about that in relation to this matter, because it is part of the same case. The Home Secretary then had to deal with something more than that. There were only a few people, who had no power in this country, to conduct any subversive attack upon its institutions, but the Communists came out. They were creating in the East End of London an antagonism towards themselves that might have been responsible for developing a counter-movement in that area. Therefore, the Home Secretary held the bridge against one section and the other. I have never understood why some Members within the Labour Party who clamoured for the incarceration of Mosley and his Fascists are prepared to allow Stalin and his thugs the complete right to put over their propaganda and doctrine. I take the logical view. I have never attempted to pick my dictator. If we pick our dictator, we have given away the fundamental right of——
The hon. Member says that Members have clamoured for the incarceration of Mosley and his Fascists and have asked that the Communists should remain free. Is he not mistaking his hon. Friends? Can he think of a single Member taking this line, who clamoured for the incarceration of the Fascists?
Surely it is within the recollection of my hon. Friend that the Home Secretary was assailed from this side of the House because he had taken certain action to prohibit meetings and so forth. I am alluding to that.
The hon. Member will do me the justice of remembering, because he, like myself, was a Member of the war-time Parliament, that I joined with him and others in protesting against what I thought to be the misuse of Regulation 18B.
I was not alluding to that at all. I know that there are, on this side of the House—I regret to say it—a number of Members who sit on the fence at election time, when they are afraid to declare their interest, but who, when the election is over, are always to be found flirting with the idea of a Communist Party, a Communist dictatorship or of being a fellow traveller.As far as the Sheffield Peace Congress is concerned, I would be prepared to allow it if it were a genuine peace conference. I have the greatest respect for, and would go to any lengths to defend, the most extreme pacifist point of view, but when I see people making a pretence of peace in order to disarm this country, while rearming themselves to a greater and greater extent, it is too much for me. It is attempting to secure a cheap victory over democracy by enlisting the aid of simple people in various countries. I am not saying that all who go to Sheffield are of the conspirator type. There are many simple people who know nothing about politics, people who have never followed its development and struggle. I have watched this Cominform, in various forms, since it first came into being in 1918. I was invited at that time to join the Communist Party. The one thing I always opposed was the fact that the theories they believed in were a conspiracy. I say to Members that they cannot be democrats and flirt with dictatorship at the same time. They must decide where they stand. They must go to the electors and say that they mean what they say at election time—that they stand for the defence of the democratic rights of people all over the world. What are the people in concentration camps and in prisons in Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, Roumania and Albania to think if they know that we, in this country, who profess to be the great upholders of democracy and decency, are allowing these Communists to be given visas to lambast democracy from the rostrum at Sheffield, while they are languishing under the heel of the Cominform? It is too much for me; I cannot accept it. The Government and the country are making a great mistake in not outlawing entirely the Communist Party here, not because they are propagating something that they should not be allowed to propagate, but because they are conspiring to commit acts of sabotage and treachery to defeat the aims of this country—the spirit and will to defend itself in an emergency. The day will come, sooner than a lot of Members expect, when Members will be asked to declare where they stand in relation to this problem. I believe that the only thing that could severely defeat this Government at the polls is if the British electorate think they have any sympathy or support for the Cominform, or are weakening in the process of defending themselves against that system. I back the Government in this matter. History will judge this country on the action it takes, and I believe that the years to come will justify my right hon. Friend in the eyes of the people of this land and of the world, and that they will see in him a man who resisted the blandishments of these saboteurs and arch-criminals.
This is a very striking debate. It could not occur anywhere east of the Iron Curtain, and it is a great tribute to the democracy of this country that this dis- cussion can take place and in the form in which it is taking place. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) has rendered a great service to the cause of parliamentarianism and of free discussion in the world by raising this topic tonight. It is also a striking debate because of the division of opinion freely expressed. A person has a right to express his views at all times upon all subjects, and that is one of the most important rights to be safeguarded throughout the world. The right of the person must be an expression of his view, not a false view or one which he is compelled by an organisation to put forward.There is no doubt that peace can, in certain circumstances, be used as an instrument of war, but when we turn to the history of free speech even in this country we find that, first of all, it was put into the Bill of Rights as a curb upon the authority of the Executive. It was the right of free speech by Members of this House. This is where it began. It was a claim by Members of this House to express their views freely here. That is important to remember. While that right operated inside the House, it was limited to this House only. There was no such thing then, as permission to report the proceedings of the House. There was no such thing as free discussion or the right of free speech in the country. Anyone looking at our libel laws at that time and going through cases in the courts would at once see that there was no such thing as the right of free speech. So we see that free speech was first given to this House to be a curb upon the rights of the Executive. It has gradually spread to the courts and to the country. The doctrine which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Nelson and Colne enunciated this evening was not the doctrine of this country at the time of the Bill of Rights. It was a different doctrine. The Bill of Rights, by giving it a form of law, extended it. Free discussion became law, and then Parliament could not long remain unreported. Once we allowed Parliament to be reported there had, sooner or later, to be a modification of the law of libel. That is the justification of free discussion, and it is the justification for holding even the perverse peace conference of Sheffield. When we look at the figures given by the Home Secretary, as I understood him, we find that visas were permitted by him to 300 people in the visa countries, but out of those 300 only about 80 or 82 exercised the right to come. Why did not the other members come? They were free to come in; they were not banned. The question arises whether that has something to do with the point raised by the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) that they were not genuinely interested in the peace conference. Or were they prohibited by an authority which precluded them from advocating the peace which they genuinely wished to advocate? If they were precluded by another government from attending, it is evident that this peace conference was not an expression of free opinion.
No one thinks it was.
That introduces another point about free speech. If speech is coerced it is no longer free speech. If these 270 people were permitted to come in and voluntarily did not come in, or were prevented from coming in, they were no longer free men. It can no longer be pretended that they genuinely expressed their own opinions.
I think I am putting the view of my colleagues and myself in saying that nobody dissents from the Home Secretary's point that this was a Communist meeting or from the point that this Peace Congress was a cloak for something else and was not genuine. No one dissents from the view that Communists have not very much right to free speech, and all of us think there were very substantial grounds for the point of view of my right hon. Friend. What we are wondering about is whether Britain's reputation has been enhanced in a world which is discussing anti-nationalism, and in which we are proud of our great traditions. I am trying to put the matter fairly as a matter of balance.
The hon. Member is not entitled to intervene to make a speech at this stage.
I shall terminate it in one second. Sir. My right hon. Friend, who considered the matter, has a great tradition of liberty behind him.
I am not disagreeing with any of the doctrines laid down by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne. I agree fully with the doctrines he laid down about the importance of free speech, but it is a duty attaching to free speech that it be a genuine expression of free speech. That is the issue. As I am talking about Communism, I can conceive a perfect right for anybody in this country, just as I have the right to express my conviction as a Liberal, to say—supposing him to be a man who owes allegiance to this country—"I am convinced that the proper form of government in this country is a Communist one." I profoundly disagree with that, but if that man owes allegiance to this country and to this country alone, he is, in my view, entitled to express his view quite as much as the member of any other party. But if he says what Communists in this country say, and what the distinguished man from France appears to have said—I do not know the quotation but for the purposes of my argument I am assuming that he did say it—that he owes allegiance to Russia, that is surely something which cannot be tolerated.
I do not say that this gentleman ever said anything of the kind, but if anybody says, "I owe allegiance to Russia," that is surely a question between him and his own Government and has nothing to do with us.
I was not discussing him in that respect. I was replying to the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Leslie Hale), and drawing a distinction between the two classes of Communist in this country—one advocating Communism but owing allegiance to this country and the other being a Communist owing allegiance to a foreign Power. The latter seems to me to be treasonable sedition. There is a distinction between the two and it is important to bear it in mind.I saw a report of the speech of the Dean of Canterbury at the Peace Congress. The Dean had a perfect right to make the speech, but he is reported to have said that the rearmament policy of this country proves that this country desires war. That is a gross misrepresentation of any party and of anyone in this country. Apparently he has a perfect right to say it in this country, however wrong and misleading it is. This issue is an important one, and I agree that the situation is a very difficult one to which to find an answer. I find it hard to deal with the figures which the Home Secretary has given. I find it very hard to say that the Home Secretary is clearly wrong when he has given permission to the great bulk of the 300 people to come here. They would have had their free discussion if they had come; no one would have deterred them from taking part in it. One of the difficulties which we have to face is that the individual has been wiped out in the whole of the Eastern part of Europe. He has been wiped out mainly in this century by one dictatorship after another. One of the difficulties of that form of government in any part of the world is that it tends to make even the democracies resort to, something similar in order to cope with it.
And to survive.
One of the serious difficulties is that we cannot remain free people—make no mistake about it—in any part of the world when a substantial part of the world lacks complete freedom. That is important.
Surely how far one has to limit freedom depends on the extent of the threat to one's freedom.
Let me refer to the history of this century. The greatest limitation upon freedom is war. War puts a ban upon it. The first thing that disappears in war is the right of free speech. In this country, as in any other country, in time of war we cannot say what we like or what it would be perfectly legitimate to say in time of peace—in case we give information to the enemy, among other things. From my point of view as a Liberal, one of the struggles of this century has been the attempt between the wars to regain the liberty of the individual. The fight went on between 1919 and 1939 and now it is on again. The individual is nearly abolished in a free country, controlled here and controlled there, and the fight is on again. What is the argument for controls in a free country? It is, "Look at Eastern Europe." [HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."] Oh, yes, that is what it comes to. Once the right of free speech has been abolished we have to begin slowly in order to re-establish it. We must maintain freedom in every sphere as far as we can in this country and enlarge it, but we should not at the same time give weapons to the other side so that the Communists can just march in. They have never marched into any country in Eastern Europe on the grounds of establishing free discussion or free opinion; they have taken the key positions and used them. That is what they will do here. It is not a question of argument; it is not a question of free speech. It is a question of exercising material control. A peace conference, however much one may disagree with it, should certainly be held freely when it is a free movement, but a peace conference used as a weapon of war should be treated as a weapon of war.
I do not want to make a long contribution to this Debate and I speak only as one Member of the Labour party who keeps in contact with the people in his own division. I think it is right that their point of view should have expression in such debates as this.The Labour Government so far have done a great work in trying to get this country back to what might be described as normal conditions, and if the country now must face a threat from outside, unless the Government are prepared to take the necessary action, then they can no longer hold the responsibility of Government or the respect of a majority of the country. Therefore, the action of the Government in limiting the numbers and types of people who come into this country from other countries is of the utmost importance. As I see it, it amounts to this, that hon. and right hon. Members can talk about the rights of free speech—everybody can talk about them—but unless they are also prepared to shoulder the responsibilities of maintaining a free democracy, it will depart from us. That is the weakness of the case that has been put before the House by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman). He has dealt with the rights of free speech but nowhere in his speech was there any recognition that those rights carried responsibilities. On those grounds his case is gone completely. Today we shoulder heavy responsibilities before the world for maintaining democracy and its essentials. As I listened to the hon. Member, I wrote down one or two quotations. When he attempted to face the realities of the present situa- tion, he said that a new world war would be suicidal to all mankind. So what? On the basis of his attitude—do not rearm.
The hon. Gentleman has made his speech and I wrote those words down. I have no desire whatsoever to misrepresent the hon. Gentleman.
Then will the hon. Member give way?
In the context in which he made that statement, he indicated that he did not want another world war.
Does the hon. Member?
I do not.
Then we agree.
In that respect we agree, but the hon. Member did not assure himself or this House that somebody else did not want one; that there was no connection between holding this Peace Congress in Sheffield and all that has taken place in other parts of the world. I know there is a connection between them. The hon. Member also referred to people who know only what their governments allow them to know. If he recognised that that was the fact, that those who were coming from beyond the Iron Curtain knew only what their Governments allowed them to know, what contribution could they make either to the peace of the world or to free discussion in this country?
They could learn something.
Can people who are prohibited from learning in their own country and who are severely handpicked when they come out of it, learn anything by coming to this country? The hon. Member and others may take that view if they so desire, but it seems to me clear beyond any doubt that we must have regard to the awful threat that hangs over the world and must preserve in this country both those things that are essential to our democratic way of life and also the means of defending our country and other free countries from the threat that is without.
I think one must acknowledge that the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) was one of the first in the Labour Party to come away from that easy period of friendly association with Russia in 1945 and to begin to formalise the opposition of the party opposite against Russian Communism. I listened to many of his speeches in those days and thought them good and wise, because it seemed to me that we were in some danger of failing to take a stand in this country in time against an enemy and an enemy ideology which might become overwhelming.Nevertheless, I am a little disappointed that the hon. Member should pursue his theme tonight with such violence when it seems to me that he has secured a position for himself and for a great many of his hon. Friends. I did not think that everything he said tonight was entirely wise. He said—and no one will dissent from this view—that our thought and purpose in this country must be to drive forward and liberate thousands of persons from the terrible conditions in which they are now living in concentration camps and elsewhere—and do it by arms, I suppose, and also by the processes of the mind. Mr. Deputy-Speaker, if you want to save something from the swirling tide, must you not stand upon a firm rock in order to do it? If you want to save people from concentration camps, must not you do it from a secure place of liberty? It seems to me that if we go in the direction of gradually whittling down any of our cherished and traditional liberties, the ethos and inspiration behind our desire to liberate these masses from their conditions of slavery will begin to depart. There will be fewer and fewer persons in this country in conditions of limited freedom who will be prepared to accept and to live up to the challenge of the hon. Member. I do not entirely agree with him in what he said about Czechoslovakia, although this is really extraneous to the Debate. I do not really believe that Czechoslovakia, with only 20 years of democracy, was in a condition where human freedom and inspiration to resist the onslaught of Communist control were as securely placed as is in some of the Western countries. I believe that Czechoslovakia, despite the policy of Wilsonian self-determination, despite the formalised democratic constitution planted upon that country, had too much tradition of subservience to autocratic rule under the Emperors in Austria before and back into history. They had not come forward to the stage we have in this country or in other Western European countries. Therefore, it seems to me that they were much more easily converted to the Communist way of life than we should be in this country. I regard this conference, had it taken place at Sheffield, as being a possible example of free Britons, if left to their own devices to listen to the kind of propaganda that was being put over by these visitors to this country, being proved able to withstand it through the instincts and understandings which they have derived from our 300 or 400 years of developing democracy.
It is an important point that the noble Lord has made, but will he also bear in mind that the insidiousness of this propaganda was not in regard to its impact on the British public, but the propaganda broadcast to Central Europe, where they have only one side of the story?
I am afraid I agree with the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) that we have done much more damage to our cause by putting a ban on this conference than we would have done by allowing it to proceed in the normal way. I am perfectly certain that the citizens of Sheffield, had they gone to listen to some of this semi-Communist and over-pacific stuff generated by some of these visitors, whether distinguished or undistinguished, would have rebutted it entirely in their minds, if not by their clamour in the hall. Furthermore, I think it is bad policy to put down a kind of nest or fringe of officials at the ports and thereby presume that it is His Majesty's Government that knows best the extent to which the British people, out of their inspiration and ethos, can withstand these arguments. I would feel much more secure if we had a Government which gave complete liberty to people to come here and say exactly what they like in the knowledge that the average Englishman, Scotsman or Welshman can withstand it and argue against it from his own background and his own tradition.I hope I am not being condescending or presumptuous in saying that some of us on this side of the House have admired the handling of many events by the Home Secretary in the past. His humour and lighthandedness in ad- ministrative action have, perhaps, at times caught our fancy and we have agreed with him on such questions as the admission of foreign workers, Fascist marches through London, naturalisation and things of that kind. But I must say that this afternoon he seemed to stand in a very unhappy position indeed. We had a statement from him and from the Prime Minister earlier that freedom of speech was one of our most cherished possessions, that freedom of speech would be allowed at Sheffield, but, later on, we had the administrative act which denied the other cherished possession, freedom of assembly. How we can have freedom of speech without free assembly, I simply do not know. It came at an ill moment, the very day when we were discussing the Strasbourg Resolutions and the Declaration of Human Rights. What we now seem to have descended to is a kind of new droit administratif. Communists in this country are considered as being constitutional in their acts. They are perfectly at liberty to assemble to discuss what they like provided they keep the peace. The Home Secretary would not dare to argue that the Communist Party in this country is not a constitutional party, or else how is it possible for two Communist Members of Parliament to have been lately with us? It must be so, yet the right hon. Gentleman takes this attitude for persons at home, the British, but denies it to the foreigner. If you are a foreigner, no matter whether you are a Communist or whether you are not a Communist but are coming to Sheffield to make a speech about peace, you must be banned and not allowed to come to this country. Apart altogether from what we must do on the military plane with those Communists who break the law, subvert the interests of the country and proceed by underhand methods, I do not see how we can ever grapple with Communism on the ideological plane unless Communists can come, whether from the East End of London or Paris or Warsaw, and be argued against and taught some of the things which we in Britain cherish. If we are to put at the ports an array of officials some of whom act on their own and some of whom act on direct information from persons in Whitehall who have not considered these principles as thoroughly as has the right hon. Gentleman himself, may they not on many occasions deny access to this country for perfectly legitimate purposes persons whom we could convert to our Western way of life? Of course, if people can be shown to be coming here with subversive papers or nefarious apparatus, then let M.I.5 loose upon them. In many directions I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman's anti-subversive organisation is strong enough.
It is not mine.
Then the organisation of the Secretary of State for War. We have had too many cases in the last few weeks of sabotaging activities having taken place and having neither been prevented nor kept to small proportions. There is a good case for strengthening the military and police side to ensure that foreigners coming to this country do no damage to our vital interests. But there is nothing to be said for this administrative action to deny the right of free speech.On the Third Programme at the weekend there was presented the remarkable funeral oration of Pericles. It seemed to me to come at a most opportune moment when we were proceeding, on Monday, to discuss the Strasbourg Human Rights resolutions, and when the fear of inept Government action on the Sheffield conference was in some of our minds. Perhaps it is a naive view that in our generation and time we can ever approach in this country to the pure form of democracy that was achieved in Periclean Athens. At all events, some of the sentiments that occur in that famous speech are those which we should grope and strive after, principally those which are contained in the passage in which he said:
perhaps had he known of this afternoon he might have said cold war—"We have this further, that owing to the greatness of our city all things from all parts of the world are imported hither whereby we no less familiarly enjoy the products of other nations than our own: and in the practice of war"—
"we excel our enemies in this, we leave our cities open to all men. Neither is it ever seen that by the banishing of strangers we deny them the right of learning of anything from which an enemy might reap advantage for we trust not to secret preparation and deceit but to our own courage in the action."
All of us, on whatever side of the House we sit, feel at least about the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) that he has the one attribute that most of us admire perhaps more than anything else in this House—very high Parliamentary courage. I would like to begin by associating myself with the final remarks which fell from him, but I will turn for a moment, to the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Dye). He said we should test this matter in this way: that we should say people have rights but they have also responsibilities. What does my hon. Friend say to this? Are we to refuse entry to anyone from South Africa? There is nobody on this side of the House who does not deplore the racial discrimination that takes place in South Africa, but what would be said to the Home Secretary if those people came here to explain the reason for their policy and we denied them entry into this country?This is not a question of numbers. The hon. and learned Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hopkin Morris) suggested that because only a few people had been banned, it did not matter. This was an issue of importance, whether one person was banned or 100 persons were banned.
No. I made no point about the smallness of the numbers refused. My point was that of the large numbers permitted to come in many did not take advantage of that permission. I was discussing the point about the peace conference.
I do not want to get into an argument as to administrative affairs at the ports, or why the people who presented themselves there were not admitted. There may be a good reason for it. I understood it to have been said that 82 people with visas presented themselves at the ports and only 75 were admitted.
I am sure the hon. and learned Member does not want to misrepresent what I said. I was not dealing with numbers. I was not dealing with 82 or 75, but with the number that were permitted to come in—the difference between 82 and the 300 permitted, and the fact that they did not come, although they were permitted.
We are discussing a question of principle. It would be a great pity if the House were diverted into an argument as to whether the Ministry of Civil Aviation did, or did not, provide the necessary transport. There may be some point there, but the question for which we are responsible here is the failure to permit certain people to enter, and not the failure of other people to take advantage of it. That is a thing outside our responsibility.This is a question of principle. Some hon. Members seem to think that the particular object for which the conference is held rather matters. Surely, that is immaterial. The question is whether we are to have freedom of speech here or not, and not for what purpose people happen to come together. One of my hon. Friends said that free speech is all right so long as the man who is making the speech is honest. That is an ideal standard, but it is a very difficult matter if we are to elect ourselves judges of what is honest and what is not. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill), for example, has always expressed himself very much in favour of doing all he can to promote peace. He spoke at Fulton, in the United States, and made what many of us think was a most mischievous speech and one which, in the view of many hon. Members on this side, did a great deal of harm to the cause of peace. We on this side of the House would have been the last to have made any representations to the United States Government that the right hon. Gentleman should not be allowed to appear there; and had the United States Government, for any reason whatsoever, prevented his speaking, we would have regarded it as a gross insult to us all irrespective of what he had to say. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Mr. McGovern), said we must make a difference between people who are brought together in some international body and those who owe some allegiance to an outside body. That sort of argument is often levelled not only against Communists but, for example, against people of various religions. It is not so very long ago that people were denied religious freedom in this country on the ground that they owed allegiance to some potentate in Italy.