Government Policy

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 28th October 1947.

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Photo of Mr Stanley Awbery Mr Stanley Awbery , Bristol Central 12:00 am, 28th October 1947

Throughout the discussion on the Gracious Speech two matters have been raised prominently, and I should like to deal with both of them. One is the question of dollars from America, and the other deeds by the people of this country. In the Gracious Speech we have the programme for the third Session of Parliament with the Labour Government in office. We have placed upon the Statute Book during the last two Sessions a considerable amount of legislation, and we are satisfied that, with what we have done, we still retain the confidence of this nation. At least, we have not yet lost one of the 22 by-elections which have taken place. We know that during this period storms have blown up, many of them quite unexpectedly. The world knew in 1945 that the Government that then took office would be fettered and hampered by the inevitable consequences, political and economical, of the most devastating war of all time. Every nation today, victor or vanquished, is reeling and staggering as a result of the dislocation caused by the war. The Opposition know this—that the cause of the economic crisis today is not the Labour Party or the Labour Government. The cause is the war. Still, they endeavour to blame the Government for it all. Hitler said that if Germany went down, it would take Europe down with it, and he has been more successful than most of us dreamed of.

The determination of the workers to help us out of this difficulty is tremendous. The determination is greater, in my opinion, than the difficulties themselves, but I should like to suggest to the Government that if they want the workers to pull their weight three things are essential. They must be told in explicit and unambiguous language three things—what the difficulties are, why the difficulties exist, and what measures are to be adopted in order to meet them. I believe that then all of the workers of this country will respond. They struggled to establish this democratic system of ours, and they will not see it taken from them so very easily. They pulled us through in the past, and they will pull us through again. I suggest that our Ministers should use the wireless more than they do, not so much for party political propaganda, but in order to enlighten the nation of the full facts of the case. Rumours circulate, and they do us a great deal of harm. They scatter dangers, fears and despair in the mind of the nation; and these are our enemies. I feel that some of the speeches that are made outside by Members of both sides of the House are not very helpful. Political capital may be made out of some of the speeches, but they do not help the country in its dire distress.

I should like to say a word on the question of deeds, and what I think about them. I have been a representative of a trade union, a representative of a large number of men, for 25 years. The basis of our future progress is going to be upon the work and the deeds of the people in our workshops and in our factories. The Government are going to redress the balance of payments by production—by deeds. We do not want to see this increase in production, which will be brought about by the workers, to be by means of unfair competition among the nations; but we want it in order to increase the standard of living of the common people. The salvation of this country lies not in the hands of the financiers, not in the hands even of this Parliament: it lies in the hands of the producer? by hand and brain. We are helpless without them. It has been said in this House on several occasions that coal is as valuable as gold. What has been done in the Rhondda Valley in the mining areas is of greater consequence to this country today than what is done in Threadneedle Street. It is interesting to note that losses today are not measured, like they were, in pounds, shillings and pence, but in the tons of coal which have been lost by any particular strike.

Are we going to increase this production? I think that we have to create confidence and the right atmosphere in the minds of the people in the factories and workshops. We must develop among our producers greater social consciousness than exists at the present time. We want to create a feeling amongst them that they must give to the nation—not to the boss; not to the capitalist: but that they must give to the nation according to their ability; and the nation must give to them according to their needs. To do this much bitterness has to be removed. For a large number of years there has been a great deal of bitterness between the employers and the employees. That has to be removed. A great deal of antagonism has to be wiped out. I believe that this workers' Government, sent here by the workers, can do that job, and I do not think that the Tories could ever do it because of their past. Our Tory friends may smile. They are entitled to smile. But we have had experience in the mines. The feeling in the mines is so bitter that it is going to take a long time to remove it. Men have been drawn from the land, and now they have to be won back to it. I fought a by-election in 1945 in a textile area where 75 per cent. of the town had been unemployed for eight years.

We have to break down that feeling; we have much to undo as well to do. The workers are not unmindful of their past position under a Tory Government. I remind the House that two years after the war, in August, 1922, there were 1,450,000 unemployed in this country. I remember sitting in a parish room for two hours in order to draw 3s. 6d. parish relief for my grandmother. But there was no crisis then; the country was not a poor country but a rich country, and at that time there were eight million people in this country who were undernourished. During the period when there were distressed areas we were a rich country, but the Tory Party was in power and the people can never forget that. There was no millenium under Toryism, and there is no illusion amongst the working people today that if ever we returned to Toryism there would be a millenium. We won the Election on "Let Us Face The Future." Hon. Members opposite want to win the next Election. They can win that next Election only by getting the people to forget the past.

Before concluding, I wish to say a little about dollars from America, because that is important. We heard this afternoon that there were "shabby moneylenders" in America. Probably there are. So are there "shabby moneylenders" in this country. But that is not a characteristic of the American people generally. I believe them to be kind and generous. Indeed, we are deeply grateful to them for what they did under Lend-Lease and the help they gave to us, which was referred to this afternoon by the right hon. Member for Woodford. Up to the moment, we have appealed to the commercial and business mind of America. I say to our politicians and statesmen that we ought to appeal to their hearts, because then I am sure they would respond. We ought to appeal to the spirit of the American people, and not only to their business acumen.

It may sound sentimental but I believe we ought to say to the American people, "We held the fort alone for 12 months. If you had been in the war during that 12 months it would have cost you £2,500 million. We are now asking you to give us that money as a contribution towards our effort. We want you to treat us as gallant, fearless, intrepid and honourable allies, and to help us out of our present difficulties. Do not let the commercial instinct outweigh your moral obligation to a partner who stood alone in the most critical year in the history of the world, to a nation which stood alone in order that government of the people, for the people and by the people should not perish from the earth." I am confident that there are chivalrous people in the United States who are capable of responding to such an appeal. There are people in America, originating from every county in this country, who are ready to respond; they left the homes of their fathers, but they have not forgotten them If we appeal to the sense of fair play of the Americans, and to their hearts, I believe a response would be made. They are prepared not only to lend but, in my opinion, to give.

No, no, my friends! The American people are not all hard-hearted businessmen trying to squeeze the lemon till the pips squeak; they are not all men endeavouring to get the maximum price from this old country of ours. They have a sense of moral obligation for what we have done, and they will respond magnificently, as I believe this nation would have responded had our positions been reversed. I do not want to go to America—as was said by an hon. Member last week—as a mendicant, cap in hand, pleading for a dole. I would go in a dignified manner, explaining to them and the world what a victorious war has meant to this nation. Had Hitler been successful we would have shared with America the resultant misery and impoverishment, and the loss of all that is worth while in human life. Why, then, should we not appeal to America and ask her to share at least some of the good things which she has to spare with us who are in such desperate need, and ask her, in justice, to re-introduce Lend-Lease for a few years until this country can recover its economic position?