Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Complete list of 8,000+ Thatcher statements & texts of many of them

1949 May 13 Fr
Margaret Thatcher

Letters on Labour Government’s record

Document type: speeches
Document kind: Letter
Venue: 74, Spital Street, Dartford, Kent
Source: (1) Erith Observer, 29 April 1949 and 13 May 1949 (2) Erith Observer, 20 May 1949 and 3 June 1949
Journalist: -
Editorial comments: Item dated by publication of MT’s first letter. The dates of writing are not recorded. MT was replying to letters from Richard Marsh, then a local Labour activist, who challenged points made in her Speech to Dartford Conservatives, 31 March 1949.
Importance ranking: Minor
Word count: 3659
Themes: Agriculture, Executive, Conservative Party (organization), Industry, Energy, Public spending & borrowing, Taxation, Health policy, Labour Party & socialism, Liberal & Social Democratic Parties
(1) Erith Observer, 29 April 1949

QUESTIONS TO THE CANDIDATE

To the Editor

Dear Sir,—It it unfortunate that the report in your column last week of the speech by the prospective Conservative candidate should be so nebulous in respect of matters of great interest to your readers, and I ask that Miss Roberts will give further information on some of the points she raised.

Miss Roberts 's stated that £200,000,000 was lost in exports, just because of the shortage of 5,000,000 tons of coal; could we know what the Conservatives would have done to get this extra coal? Is she not aware that the main cause of loss in the bad winter of 1947–48 was lack of generating plant?

She mentioned that production costs have to be reduced; could we know what her suggestions are, and do they include wage reductions?

When Miss Roberts claims that the Tory Party were the pioneers of the great National Health Scheme will she explain why her party voted against the introduction of the Bill in both its second and third readings?

Does Miss Roberts have in mind reductions in the social services and food subsidies in her advocacy of reduced taxation, if not, by what means does she think this can be achieved?

Is Mr. Morris Wheeler, who was chairman of the meeting, not aware of the statement by Mr. Clement Davies, M.P., leader of the Liberal Party at Westminster, that it is wrong for Liberals to vote Tory?— Yours faithfully,

Richard W. Marsh,

Chairman, Dartford Division

Labour League of Youth.

305, Abbey-road, Belvedere. [end p1] Erith Observer, 13 May 1949

Miss Roberts Replies

To the Editor

Dear Sir.—Your correspondent, Mr. Richard W. Marsh, in your issue of April 29, asked for further information on some points raised in a speech of mine which he said was reported in your columns of “last week” (April 22). I take it his request refers to the report of the Conservative annual meeting held on March 31, which was reported in your issue of April 8.

To deal with his queries in the order raised:—

1. Fuel Crisis.—For want of 5 000,000 tons of coal in this country, the export drive suffered (according to the Government's own estimate) to the extent of £200,000,000. The question Mr. Marsh asks is, what Conservatives would have done to get this extra coal, but that is not the only point to be considered in relation to the fuel crisis; the other one is—had the coal supplies been used economically and to the best advantage, should we have found ourselves short of 5,000,000 tons?

To take the latter point first, there are a number of factors to be considered. The Minister of Fuel and Power, Mr. E. Shinwell, was continually warned that our reserves of coal were dangerously low but he refused to admit it. Now, unless you admit a situation exists, you can do nothing to remedy it. As late as October 24, 1946, when our supplies were already 5,000,000 tons below the safety level, he said: “Everybody knows there is going to be a serious crisis in the coal industry except the Minister of Fuel and Power …” How right he was! He continued: “There is not going to be a crisis if by crisis you mean that industrial organisation is going to be seriously dislocated and hundreds of factories are to be closed down.”

Had he heeded Conservative warnings through the summer of 1946 he could: (i.) have told the country openly of the dangerous position when far greater efforts towards economy would have been made all round; (ii.) have prevented the export of 9,000,000 tons of coal in bunkering and otherwise which took place that year. If five of that 9,000,000 tons had been kept in this country, our reserves would have been safe; (iii.) have warned Hugh Daltonthe Chancellor of the Exchequer not to take off purchase tax from electrical appliances, thus encouraging increased fuel consumption when our coal stocks could least afford it. Had these measures been taken the fuel crisis could have been averted.

As to the former point of what Conservatives would have done to get more coal, let us first see what the Coalition Government did in a previous year with a comparable labour force.

Average No. of Year. Wage-earners. Coal Output 1941 …   . 697,600 206.344,000 1946 …   . 696,700 189,300,000

In 1941, therefore, with a labour force of approximately the same as in 1946 the methods of administration and production used by the Coalition Government secured a far greater output of coal than a Socialist Government five years later. The proof of the pudding is in the eating! A Government predominantly Conservative did it in 1941.

One of the principal factors in the lower output for 1946 is the high rate of absenteeism, which was twice as great as in pre-war years. The cause of this is to be found in the high taxation rate which offers little financial incentive to the wage-earners to produce more. Conservatives have long advocated a reduction in taxation, which I shall deal with under Mr. Marsh 's fourth point.

A second factor is that the emphasis in 1946 was on a changing ownership, and not on greater production. For fuller details of this point I would refer your readers to two pamphlets produced by the Conservative Party on “The Organisation of the Coal Board.” by C. G Lancaster, M.P., and “Inside Industry—Coal.” Both can be obtained through Conservative head-quarters at 74. Spital-street. Dartford.

The lack of generating plant had nothing to do with the fuel crisis.

2. Production Costs.—The two chief lines of approach towards reducing production costs are: (a) reduction of overheads. (b) reduced costs of raw materials.

Under (a) comes the whole question of Government forms, licences and permits, which necessitate a large proportion of non-productive workers in every industry, which puts up the cost of the finished article. For example talking about the coal industry a moment ago, in the United States the proportion of productive to non-productive workers is 72 per cent.; here it is 26 per cent., a margin which is too wide to admit of purely technical explanation. Conservatives have never advocated the complete abolition of all controls, but there are many which hold up production, and which it would be beneficial to the nation to reduce. I quote examples of the cumbersome operation of two controls:—

(i.) “The Government have allowed a British industrialist to spend 50 000 dollars from United States credits to import a plant designed to burn only 25 per cent. of the coal normally used in soap manufacture, but they have refused him the 45 tons of constructional steel which he must have to house the machinery … The equipment has therefore been tied up in packing cases in a Merseyside warehouse for the last month.” —( “Daily Mail,” August 19, 1948.)

(ii.) “Farmers in Scotland working night and day to save the harvest from floods have been ordered by the Department of Agriculture to answer 199 questions by September 15—many of them about domestic fittings in their homes. If they do not answer states the department. They are liable to heavy penalties. There are 143 questions relating to crops and livestock, and 56 additional queries about the supplies of water and electricity on their farms. For example, farmers must state the number of electric lamps used in the farmhouse in their cottages, and on the farm. Mr. D. Chalmers Watson, an East Lothian farmer, said yesterday, ‘It is appalling. Last time we had to count the number of taps in the bathrooms and washbasins. Now we have to check up on bedside lamps at a time when we are concerned about the harvest’.” —( “Sunday Express,” Sept. 5, 1948.)

If controls such as these were cut, overhead charges would be reduced and non-productive workers released for productive work.

Under “reduced costs of raw materials” comes the question of Government bulk purchase, which often results in the manufacturer having to pay a higher price for his raw material than he would if he bought it privately.

In a number of industries, the one in which I personally am engaged, for example (production of xylonite), the largest factor in the costing of the finished article is the cost of the raw materials. It is therefore of prime importance that this should be reduced by every means possible. Examples of some of the needlessly high prices this system is affording as are as follows:—

(i.) Copper in Britain is now £24 a ton dearer than in New York, lead £18 a ton dearer, zinc £24 dearer. At present rates of consumption a burden of £1½ has been laid on British manufacturers in the past month.

(ii.) Last autumn. J. and P. Coats, who are large users of Egyptian Karnade cotton, pointed out their requirements to the Cotton Buying Commission at a time when that cotton was 29d. per lb., and suggested that the Government should buy. The Commission knew better, and did not buy. Later the cotton had to be bought at prices up to COd. per 1b.

For further discussion and examples, please refer to a pamphlet obtainable from Conservative headquarters at Dartford called. “The State as Merchant.”

Another factor not to be dismissed lightly is the increasing cost of coal and fuel under nationalisation which again puts up manufacturing costs.

Wage reductions are certainly no part of Conservative policy, but we believe that production costs could be reduced along the lines indicated above. [end p2]

3. National Health Scheme.—The situation up to 1945 was, briefly, as follows: The original steps to set up a National Health Service were taken during the Coalition Government when Mr. Ernest Brown (Liberal National) was Minister of Health. The conception of a National Health Service was put forward in 1942 by Sir William Beveridge (Liberal) and actively developed by Mr. Henry Willink, K.C., M.P., who succeeded Mr. Brown at the Ministry of Health. Mr. Willink published the first draft scheme in a White Paper in January, 1944. The principles of this scheme were debated and endorsed by the House of Commons on March 16 and 17, 1944. By the end of May, 1945 as a result of discussions which Mr. Willink had held with the medical profession, a stage had been reached where legislation could be drafted with the approval of the doctors. The Socialist Government abandoned these discussions and introduced a measure which departed from certain important principles from the Coalition scheme.

(i.) The Socialist Act transfers the premises and equipment of both voluntary and municipally-owned hospitals to the Minister of Health, diverting the trust funds of voluntary hospitals to purposes other than those intended by the donors. The Coalition scheme provided for a fully organised plan of hospitals in which the voluntary hospital system would continue side by side with municipal hospitals.

(ii.) The terms offered to general practitioners, particularly in respect to (a) remuneration; (b) the buying and selling of practices; (c) the refusal to allow doctors dismissed from public service on the grounds of inefficiency the right of appeal to the court, were not considered satisfactory by Conservatives. Amendments designed to secure better conditions were rejected by the Government. The Conservative Opposition did not feel it could vote for a Bill which retained such conditions which were likely to antagonise the medical profession. They rightly considered that the first condition of a successful health scheme was to have the full co-operation of the doctors.

As the Opposition had anticipated, the medical profession did consider the terms unsatisfactory and there arose a dispute between the B.M.A. and the Government, which was aggravated by the high-handed conduct of the Minister of Health, Mr. Bevan. This continued well into 1948, and for a time it looked as if the health scheme was in jeopardy until Mr. Bevan climbed down in April, 1948. He gave way on the question of a universal basic salary and he had to agree to introduce amending legislation to make it impossible to introduce a full-time State Medical Service by way of regulation without another Act of Parliament. In addition, he promised to appoint a legal committee to inquire into the effect of the Act on partnership agreements.

In these and other ways, he has had to fall into line with Conservative criticisms which he had previously resisted. As a result of the modifications, the B.M.A. decided to recommend that the doctors should co-operate in the new scheme.

4. Reduced Taxation.—I did not have in mind reductions in either the social services or the food subsidies when I spoke of cutting down taxation. It would be possible to reduce taxation if fewer mistakes were made by Government departments and if they would (i) curb their expenditure and (ii.) get value for money for every pound spent. Just as it is possible for one family to make, say, £7 per week, go further than another, so it is with governments.

A few examples of Government extravagance and mistakes are as follows:—

(i.) Potatoes.—Mr. Strachey is making big losses on a contract under which he bought 50,000 tons of potatoes from Southern Ireland growers. He is paying the growers about £10 10s. per ton but large quantities are being sold back to alcohol factories at £3 to £4 per ton, therefore making a loss of £6 per ton, for which the taxpayer suffers.

(ii.) Onions.—Onions are being left to rot in the fields of East Anglia while large quantities are being imported. The secretary of the Isle of Ely branch of the N.F.U. estimated that 26,000 tons of onions are rotting, representing a loss of £500,000. Meanwhile, Dutch ships have been unloading cargoes of onions at King's Lynn.

(iii.) Cost of Aircraft.—The Comptroller and Auditor General's duty is to see that public money is spent in accordance with the decisions of Parliament. What he reveals about the transactions of the Ministry of Civil Aviation makes sorry reading—aircraft specially ordered and soon afterwards sold for less than one-eighth of their cost. German planes reconditioned at a cost of over £10,000 each, only to be hired out at £20 a month and then after a few months' use, taken out of service. Lancastrians priced at £42,000 but sold at £14,000; Yorks priced at £50 000, sold outright at £17,500. If a commercial concern did its business on these lines it would soon be bankrupt.

(iv.) Algerian Wine.—Mr. Strachey is left with 3,000,000 bottles of Algerian wine for which he can find no market. Cost to the taxpayer, £1,000,000.

(v.) Entertaining.—Government guests are entertained at a cost to the taxpayers of £12 per head per night.

These are just a few of innumerable examples. Taken individually, they may seem small, but in the aggregate they amount to a considerable total, for fresh examples come to light every day.

Of no lesser importance is the cost of maintaining the enormous staffs of Central Government, which, excluding the Post Office, employs nearly half-a-million non-industrial Civil servants. Local authority staffs, too, have increased by 50 per cent. since the war. The administrative staffs of the nationalised industries seem to be growing with similar rapidity. Fewer licences and permits would release some of these workers, and this in turn would mean less Government expenditure and hence lower taxation.

5. Position of Liberals.—Viscount Simon, who spoke for the Conservative candidate at the Epsom by-election and for many others since, is in strong disagreement with Mr. Clement Davies. Viscount Simon advises all Liberals to vote Tory. So does another prominent Liberal, Mr. Clive Bell, who wrote to this effect in the “Spectator” on October 22, 1948.

I trust, Sir, that this provides “further information” required by your correspondent, Mr. Marsh. Lack of space prohibits a fuller explanation.—Yours faithfully.

Margaret H. Roberts.

Prospective Parliamentary

candidate, Dartford Division.

74, Spital-street. Dartford. [end p3]

(2) Erith Observer, 20 May 1949

MORE QUESTIONS FOR CANDIDATE

To the Editor

Dear Sir,—The most significant aspect of the letter in your columns last week by Miss Roberts was that her letter, while long, omitted to deal with several important points raised. Possibly this was due to lack of space, but in view of the importance and interest of the matters raised I must ask her, once again, to deal with the vital questions.

Fuel Crisis—(a) Miss Roberts claims that lack of generating plant had nothing to do with the loss of £200,000,000 of exports in the winter of 1946–7. In that case why was there a shedding of loads, severely reducing production in factories and necessitating the introduction of night shifts on a large scale? (b) In quoting the figures of wage-earners and coal output for 1941 under a “Tory dominated Government,” would it be unkind to ask Miss Roberts also to give the much more revealing statistics for 1944 and those for 1945, when the Labour Government came into office?

National Health Bill—I cannot accept Miss Robert's reasons why her party voted against this Bill with such undisguised hostility. To deal with one of many, does she really feel that the voluntary hospitals were better off in the days when they had to beg in the streets for the funds to continue their great work than they are now?

Food Subsidies—As Miss Roberts states, a remarkable admission, that she does not advocate reductions, I take it that she favours their retention. Is she aware that this is not in line with statements by many leading Tory politicians and that the automatic choice for Chancellor of the Exchequer in a Tory Government refers to them as a “running sore” ? On reflection, does she not think that she is in the wrong party?

Liberals—Is Miss Roberts serious in her suggestion that the advice of Viscount Simon, who is generally known as a Liberal National and only a very short step removed from a Tory, should be preferred to that of the leader of the Liberal Party in the House of Commons in that it is wrong for a Liberal to vote Tory?— Yours faithfully,

Richard W. Marsh,

Chairman, Erith Labour

League of Youth; Secretary,

North-West Kent Federation of Leagues of Youth.

305, Abbey-road, Belvedere. [end p4] Erith Observer, 3 June 1949

CANDIDATE'S REPLIES

To the Editor

Dear Sir,—Further to your correspondent, Mr. Richard Marsh.

1. Fuel Crisis: (a) To claim that the greater part of our exports were lost through lack of power (which Mr. Marsh attributed to lack of generating plant) is to put cause and effect the wrong way round. Many generating plants up and down the country could not work to their full capacity because of lack of coal. Had the coal been there in sufficient quantity the power generated by existing plant would have been adequate. The cause of the crisis was lack of coal, the effect was lack of power. (b) I am asked to give the “revealing statistics” of coal output for 1944 and 1945, “when the Labour Government came into office.” They are: 1944, 185,469,000 tons, 1945, 182,658,000. These statistics certainly reveal that coal production reached a new low level the year the Socialist Government took over.

2. National Health Bill: Do I feel that the voluntary hospitals were better off in the days when they had to “beg in the streets” for funds? I do suggest that there are a number of voluntary hospitals which were very much better off under the old system, both financially and from the viewpoint of personal and local interest. Plans made by voluntary hospitals which were in a sound financial position have now been held in abeyance by cuts in capital expenditure imposed by the Ministry of Health. The Tories did fight certain parts of the Health Bill with vigour, notably those concerning the poor terms for doctors. Was not the Doctors v. Bevan fight also fought with “undisguised hostility,” and did not Bevan have to give in?

3. Food Subsidies: I am not aware that there is any one person in the Tory Party who, as Mr. Marsh suggests, would be the “automatic choice for the Chancellor of the Exchequer in a Tory Government.” I personally would have narrowed the choice down to two, and the one I would fancy as the favourite is one who belongs to the very large section of the Tory party which, under the present economic situation, is in favour of not increasing the price of essential foods. As my own view happens to be in line with the majority of my party, I see no reason to change my political colour.

4. Liberals: Viscount Simon is indeed a Liberal National, and in Mr. Marsh 's words “only a very short step removed from a Tory.” Therefore, we have it on Mr. Marsh 's authority that there is a kind of Liberal who is “only a short step removed from a Tory,” and who one would consequently expect to vote Tory!

Further, your correspondent completely ignored my second example of Mr. Clive Bell, a well-known writer, and an ex-chairman of the St. Pancras Liberal Association. Not a National Liberal, just another Liberal recommending his fellows to vote Tory.

Finally, I do not suggest that any Liberal should vote one way or the other solely on the advice of one of his own party. It is for every Liberal to study closely the principles of his own party and see whether, in his opinion, they fit in better with Conservatism or Socialism, and then to cast his vote accordingly.—Yours faithfully,

Margaret N. Roberts.

Prospective Conservative

Candidate for Dartford Division.