Debate on the Address

Part of Orders of the Day — King's Speech – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 22nd October 1947.

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Photo of Mr Daniel Lipson Mr Daniel Lipson , Cheltenham 12:00 am, 22nd October 1947

My hon. Friend the Member for Central Cardiff (Mr. G. Thomas) has made his apologia. I know him sufficiently well to be satisfied of his good intentions in visiting Eastern Europe, but I do not think he has met the point that was raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden). If the purpose of these visits was to acquaint the people of this country with conditions there, and to try to secure understanding, co-operation and good will between them and us on an honourable and just basis, without any offensive references to other countries with whom we want to be on friendly terms, we should all welcome it. I feel, however, with the hon. Lady the Member for South Aberdeen (Lady Grant), that it is necessary that there should be much more national unity if we are to get out of our economic troubles. Therefore, whether the abuse comes from the Left or the Right, I deprecate that we should introduce into party politics in this country some of the venom und bitterness which unfortunately exist in other countries and that we should accuse those from whom we differ of being either Communists or Fascists. The over- whelming majority of our people are neither one nor the other.

In view of the economic crisis, this Session is bound to be a critical one for the people and for the Government. I am not one of those who blame the Government for the existence of this crisis. The Government, in my view rightly, will be judged by the way in which they handle it. The country is in a jam. It is the duty and responsibility of the Government, by the right kind of leadership, by wise policy and sound administration to enable us to get out of our economic troubles. If the Government fail in this, they will fail in all the other things they hope to do. The country is not likely either to forget or to forgive easily. I regret that the Government have not begun this Session very well. It is no use appealing for the co-operation of everybody and then attempting to play the party game. I feel very strongly that in proposing to amend the Parliament Act. 1911, and to nationalise the gas industry, the Government are doing that. I ask them to consider very seriously what possible contribution to our economic recovery can be made by either of those Measures. Can the Government honestly say that either of these Measures is really necessary at this time?

What the nation requires is that the Government should concentrate all their energies on trying to help the country to recover her prosperity. What do the people want? They want a secure job, they want food, houses, and the reasonable amenities of life. They look to the Government to frame such a policy as will give them these things in the shortest possible time. Neither of the Measures which I have mentioned will help in any way to bring these things about. Rather they will impede our recovery because they will tend to split the nation at a time when we ought to be united It is not that the proposal to reduce the veto from two years to one is in itself an unreasonable thing or, in view of the Hey-worth Report, that there is not a great deal to be said for the nationalisation of the gas industry. The point is that the Government ought to view these proposals in the light of the economic situation. I say without hesitation that the harm which will be done to national unity will far outweigh any good which may be achieved by passing these Measures.

In his speech yesterday the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister made some debating points in regard to the reduction of the veto, but really in these days arguments of that kind do not cut a great deal of ice. The Government want to impress upon the people the urgency of the economic situation. It is wrong to seek to put off the people on a wild goose chase of this kind and to divert their attention from the real critical issues of our time. For a Government who call themselves progressive, they are amazingly out of date. Do they not realise that the people are no longer interested in this constitutional question? There was a time when they thought their salvation was to be found by settling constitutional questions and that they were of first importance. The time may come again, but I do not believe that at present there is the slightest interest in the country in this issue. As has been generally assumed, it can only have been introduced as a result of a deal between two sections of the Government. That is a fact which does not reflect any credit upon them at all.

I regret, too, that the Gracious Speech has nothing to say about the reduction in Government expenditure, except in so far as there is a reference to the reductions in the Armed Forces, due to the fact that we are cutting our commitments and are no longer required to maintain troops in India, and also I hope that, in a very short time, they will have gone from Palestine. Rut if the Government want to appeal to the people of this country and to our local authorities to cut expenditure, they ought, in my opinion, to set an example, and I think they ought to say what contribution they are prepared to make from their administrative machine to provide the men whom the country needs for essential occupations.

I thought the Prime Minister yesterday was very uncommunicative about the things which the people want to know. For instance, we have read in the Press and have been told by Ministers during the Recess that it is the policy of the Government to try to prevent any increase in wages. There is a great deal to be said for that, in view of the fact that any increase in wages not accompanied by an increase in production is bound to make it more difficult to sell our goods abroad, which, of course, we must do, but if that is the Government's policy, they must make it perfectly clear that they will see there is no increase in the cost of living. They cannot, at the same time, allow the cost of living to rise and expect wages to remain the same. We all know what happened in France when an attempt was made to do this sort of thing, and I am sure the Government do not want to have, added to their other difficulties, all the industrial strife and official strikes from which, happily, we have been free during the past two years.

Therefore, I hope that it is not the Government's intention, and I hope that the people will be told so at an early date, to interfere with the subsidies on food. We are told that at present there is a great surplus of purchasing power, and that one way of meeting that difficulty is to remove the subsidies. We know how that will work out in practice. For a household of four, it will mean, in effect, that the housewife, when she goes shopping, will find that it costs her 14s. more a week to provide food for her family, and that will inevitably result in a request for increased wages to meet it. Where this surplus purchasing power exists, I do not know. I do not find that the great majority of my constituents have any money to spare in existing conditions, but if there is an excess of purchasing power, as we are told, the proper way to deal with it is not to increase the cost of living, but to take away the labour and materials from those luxury industries which constitute a serious danger of inflation. We have to realise that at present it pays a great many manufacturers to provide goods for the home market because they can sell them more easily than they can by exporting them, and very often make bigger profits. The only way to deal with that is for the Government to withdraw labour and materials drastically from those industries so that their goods shall not be available.

I feel that, in all the Measures they propose, the Government must realise not only what the economists tell them is necessary, but also what is politically practicable. They must take into account the effect on the people of this country of any Measures introduced. I believe that the present Government's damping down of the housing programme will have a most depressing effect, and I believe it will affect production. In my own constituency, for instance, though, for- tunately, we suffered very little from bomb damage, we still have over 3,000 families that need houses, and I know from my own experience of the terrible conditions under which they are living. This is bound to have its effect upon their work. Even at the present slow rate of house-building, it is a gloomy prospect, in view of the long time they will have to wait before they get a house. If they are told that there is to be a slowing down still further, I am afraid the position will be very serious indeed.

I feel that some lack of consideration of the reaction of the public was also shown in the abolition of the basic petrol ration. I do not subscribe to a great deal of the exaggeration which has been used with regard to this matter, but it is a fact that it has appeared to a great many people to be most unfair to decide on the complete abolition of the basic ration. I would also like to say that I do not think that the giving of a supplementary ration is a fair substitute, because, in point of fact, there is a great deal of inequality in the conditions under which supplementary rations are given. In some cases it may be that the regional controller is a little more generous than in other areas, and even in the same area some people can get supplementary rations while others cannot. The fairest way is that what is available should be shared equally among all who need it, and I believe that, if only in a reduced form, the basic ration should be maintained. I think that, if the Government could agree to allow the basic ration to revert to one unit without the 50 per cent. addition and make the coupons available for two months instead of one, there will be such a feeling of relief and satisfaction among the people that it would be reflected in production, because the incentive provided would be something worth while.

I am also concerned about the threat of inflation by the abolition of the basic ration. It means that people will have to lay up their cars, and that the money they have been spending on maintaining their cars will be available as surplus purchasing power. How the Government propose to deal with that, I do not know, but it is a fact of which the Government should take account. We are told that the real reason is the abolition of he black market, and that the only way to deal with the black market is to abolish the basic ration I do not think it is fair to punish all owners and users of cars because a certain number resort to the black market. Personally, I believe that the Government will be driving people into the black market. I would give short shrift to anybody found guilty of dealings in the black market, and I think that if offenders' cars were confiscated and they were told that they would not be able to drive a car for 10 years, that in itself would be a sufficient deterrent. Anyhow, I should try it, and trust the people.

I appeal to the Government to put first things first, and to realise that their prime duty now is to get this country out of its economic troubles, and that they will do it best and most effectively if they can win the support of the overwhelming majority of the nation. But they must make the gesture. They are the Government, and it is no good their blaming the Opposition because, so far, they have not, apparently, done what the Government think they should have done to make this possible. I realise that a National Government is not possible, but I believe that national co-operation is, and I really believe that if the Government would hold up their party legislation—because there is a great deal in the Gracious Speech about social proposals which are admirable, and a great deal of legislation that could be passed by this Parliament which would benefit the people of the country—they could win that support without stirring up a great deal of party hatred and disturbing national unity. I ask the Government to concentrate on these things. Never mind what the Opposition are doing; I am concerned with what the Government ought to do. I appeal to them, even now, to do everything they can to preserve national unity, and so help us to get out of our critical situation.