Debate on the Address

Part of Orders of the Day — King's Speech – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 24th October 1947.

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Photo of Mr Ellis Smith Mr Ellis Smith , Stoke-on-Trent Stoke 12:00 am, 24th October 1947

During the past 35 years, it has been my privilege to enjoy the friendship of all the great working-class characters of this country. I say today, let the British working-class movement be on its guard. Neville Cardus, who was born in one of the poorest homes in Manchester, described "Fame is the Spur," by Howard Spring, as the greatest novel of our time. It has now been filmed, and I describe that film as the greatest film of our time. Events today, with the aid of that film, are going to have a great effect upon the British people, and upon the working classes in particular. Those of us who can stand here with not a mark against our working-class integrity, can look forward to the effect of that film on the people of our country.

This is the third Gracious Speech of this Parliament which has enabled us to look back and to the future. May I congratulate the Prime Minister on the way he received Mr. de Valera, and I express the hope, on the part of the people of our country, that that interview will lead to close economic co-operation. I want to appeal to the Prime Minister also to bring about in some way a similar meeting with Joseph Stalin. The international situation is growing worse and worse, and we are in a serious economic position. Although I am still relatively young, I have already passed through two world wars, and as far as I am concerned, it is time that the people of the world declared war on war. The Prime Minister of the first majority Labour Government in this country can make a great contribution towards easing the international situation and our economic position by meeting the representative of that mighty country, just as he has met the representatives of other countries. Let me be brutally frank. No real Labour man can agree to any cuts in our housing programme. The most hard-working, harassed people of our country will now be going home with their baskets half-filled. The most hard-working frustrated people are the working-class women, who stand in queues for hours each week with their shopping baskets waiting for their food. Why have we not worked out a time-table in order to give some satisfaction and some hope to these noble women who are playing their part? Why have we not worked out a programme to give them more food, shoes, clothes and household goods?

We are being called upon to produce more. The morale of the workers is all right. They do not need to be talked down to about morale. They have proved in the past that they are the people 10 save our country, and they will again rally to our needs in these difficult economic times. If they are called upon again to save the country by working harder and faster, then those who produce the commodities should have the first call on those commodities. In Kensington, Oxford Street, Park Lane, Bournemouth and Torquay the shops are full. These commodities should be directed into the shops in the industrial areas.

On 15th August, 1945–and this gives me great hope and gives me some satisfaction, for, as far as I am concerned after what I have passed through, it is like living over again—I suggested, and if anyone doubts it I will produce the document, that we should prepare a national plan. Based upon that plan we should build machinery that would provide us with technical and market research; a plan for modernisation in order to produce by machines and not by slave labour—a plan which would enable us to bring about maximum standards of efficiency, increased output per man-hour and, at the same time, provide those in industry with more horse-power per man-hour. On 12th September, 1945, I suggested the formation of a National Resources Planning Commission. Any one who is a student of world affairs knows that every country in the world that is making any progress at all is working upon a planned basis in that way. On 24th September, 1945, I spent hours and hours, well into the night and morning, working this out in detail; providing charts, in order to show what could be done. On 28th September, 1945, I telephoned George Woodcock, who was then the research officer of the T.U.C., and I said to him "George, we are going to consider the future of the trade of our country." That man worked for hours and hours in the preparation of a document of which no notice was taken.

I suggested on the same day that the United Kingdom Trading Corporation should be kept in being and improved upon. What a strong position this country would have been in had we continued with the United Kigndom Trading Corporation. I followed that up by suggesting trade with the Soviet Union and with all the countries that would be prepared to co-operate with us. On 30th September, 1945, I suggested the appointment of a Royal Commission or a Departmental Committee to investigate and report on all forms of restraint, rings, monopolies and cartels. On 20th November, 18th December, and 3rd January, I made proposals in order to bring about a great increase in the production of goods that were urgently needed by our people, particularly in textiles, clothing, boots and shoes. On 20th December, 1945, I made an analysis of our manpower, and suggested that before the war our economy had become top heavy, that far too many people were employed in unproductive industry and far too few in productive industry. All this was of no avail. The country and the people will pay dearly for lack of planning in this respect, and the people will be able to realise who has been responsible.

On 3rd February, 1947, nearly 100 Members of this House signed a Motion suggesting that the time had arrived when a National Planning Commission should be set up. This is democracy at work. The Prime Minister, speaking in the Debate, said that a four-year plan was to be prepared. I want to ask, "Where is that four-year plan?" It should have been obvious two years ago that there were only two roads for our country today. One is the road backward. That is the Federation of British Industries road which, at the end of a sellers' market, would lead to pre-war chaos, to a world trade war and to further slumps. The other road is the road forward—building upon a planned economy. It is true that each road will mean a period of shortages and hardships, but the forward road will give our people some hope—something to work for and to five for.

Therefore, I appeal to the Government to reconsider their approach to our economic problems. We should begin to plan in order to take the forward road. In a few years' time, the United States will be involved in a gigantic slump or they will dominate the world's markets. Therefore, we need to be concerned about prospects, because if we tie our economy too closely to an uncertain economy it is bound to have its reflection upon our own country. I appeal to the Prime Minister in particular and to the hundreds of hon. Members who have come home fresh from saving this country after playing their part in the war. Surely, the time has arrived when the Government should take the initiative in order to try again to get world economic co-operation.

I heartily endorse the new idea of some people in regard to the British Commonwealth. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, speaking upon this subject time after time during the past 15 years in small rooms in this House, has put this proposal forward, particularly during the past ten years. Surely, the time has arrived when the British Commonwealth should be brought together to work out a plan for the maximum economic cooperation between the whole of the countries making up the Commonwealth. This does not mean that it should be confined to the Commonwealth. They would provide the basis for co-operation with all the countries in Europe, with the Eastern countries and with great Soviet Russia. We should say to them that the Commonwealth wants the co-operation of the whole of the peoples living in those countries.

We are in for a grave economic crisis. We are compelled to make a basic choice, and every man and woman in this country will be called upon during the next 12 months to say quite clearly where they stand in relation to the historic situation we have now reached. In the world, we are drifting and drifting. The effect of the economy of the United States on world trade is bound to lead to a world competitive war for trade. Therefore, this country should take the initiative in order that we can take the planned road. We are being asked to work harder and produce more. I want to ask: For what are we to work harder; of what are we to produce more? I have in my hand a brochure. A number of brochures were distributed amongst a selected few in London and some other areas but I understand that prices are not given. In this one the prices are given. A new Canadian squirrel fur coat costs £175; a Canadian squirrel jacket £240; a mink coat £2,200; a blue fox coat £185; a Bystander coat £420; a Canadian mink coat £1,950; and a Platina mink coat £3,800. Then they talk about national unity. I want national unity but for far too long in this country have the people to whom I belong been exploited, persecuted and victimised while, on the other hand, we get a state of affairs like this. Therefore I want to know—