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 Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Plymouth, Devonport 12:00 am, 28th October 1947

I certainly agree that there are hon. Members opposite who have underlined their moral responsibility towards India, and in particular the hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. Nicholson), but I was saying something quite different. In the Debate on bread rationing, the right hon. Member for Woodford made a very bitter attack on His Majesty's Government because we had entered into international plans to assist India. In another place Lord Woolton attacked the Government on the same ground. Yet not a word was spoken in that Debate by any hon. Member opposite to repudiate the attack on His Majesty's Government for entering into those measures to assist the Indian people.

As the subject of India has been introduced, I should like to make one brief reference to what was said by the right hon. Member for Woodford earlier in this Debate. That right hon. Member is very good at dishing it out, but he is not so good at taking it. He made an attack on the Prime Minister which I thought was entirely illegitimate; it was a most scandalous attack, because he said that the Prime Minister of England—I forget the exact words—should reproach his own heart for the measures that he had taken about India because of the tragic events which had occurred in the last few months. The right hon. Member for Woodford said that about half a million people had been killed in these appalling tragedies in India. When the right hon. Member for Woodford was Prime Minister of this country very many more than half a million people died in India of starvation, but I would not charge the right hon. Member for Woodford with a personal responsibility for those deaths by starvation in India in 1943 and 1944. It was scandalous for the right hon. Member to make such an attack, particularly as on the last occasion when the subject of India was raised he made the best of the arrangement by his intervention at that time in congratulating the Prime Minister on the appointment of Lord Mountbatten to his post, so that he could have it both ways, however the situation turned out. That is the way in which we usually expect the right hon. Member for Woodford to deal with these matters.

I come now to the Amendment. I have always understood that an Amendment to the Address must be regarded as a Vote of Censure on the Government. At least, that is what I was informed when a year ago I put my name to an Amendment; I was informed that it must be regarded as a most serious act in this Parliament. All I can say is that if this is a Vote of Censure, it is the most feeble, the most futile, the most debilitating and the most dispiriting Vote of Censure which has ever been seen in this House. If that is the best thing they can do, they would be much wiser to leave the whole thing to us. We always look forward with great anticipation and enjoyment to the right hon. Gentleman's speeches, but today's speech was the weakest I have ever heard him make. It was a poor, miserable effort. As usual, I see that the right hon. Gentleman has so little interest that he has quickly departed. What is the charge that the right hon. Gentleman makes? One of the main charges is that the Government have been responsible for introducing partisan legislation and stirring up class warfare. The climax of this campaign is apparently to be seen in the Government's proposals in regard to amending the Parliament Act.

I believe that the case made out by hon. Members opposite is based on the fallacy that there is really big common ground of agreement which might be reached between all parties of this House on how this economic crisis could be dealt with. I believe that to be a fallacy. If the right hon. Gentleman thinks it is conceivable that the Government could adopt the kind of policy, if we can call it such, contained in the early part of his speech, he is expecting something which is impossible to happen. It is a fallacy that there is common ground of agreement between us. What we are confronted with is two different philosophies, two different methods and two different plans by which the economic situation of this country can be tackled.

I say that the real danger to this Government is not that it will be too realistic in carrying out its socialisation measures, but that it will be blackmailed, either by the Federation of British Industries or by the campaign of sabotage in the Tory newspapers, to abandon the policy and plans which the Government were elected to carry out. Because I think that is the danger, I welcome the announcement about amending the Parliament Act. I think it is a good step on the part of the Government; and will show the people of this country that they intend to go forward with the programme for which they were elected. Does anyone think for one moment that the Tory Press, which is conducting this campaign of vilification and sabotage against the Government, will be content to get hoarser and hoarser in their attacks on the Government for three years more? The idea is that the campaign shall be brought to a climax, and that in order to bring it to a climax the Opposition shall resort to the only weapon in their power, and that is the undemocratic power of the House of Lords.

The right hon. Gentleman comes to this House and says that it is undemocratic to interfere with the House of Lords. If the House of Lords is a democratic institution, then words have lost their meaning. Does anyone think that the right hon. Gentleman is such a' stickler for constitutional etiquette that he would not use the House of Lords against the elected majority of the House of Commons? He ought to know the Tory Party better than that. They were once prepared to stir up high treason against the elected Government of this country to stop measures they dislike. It was done in the case of Ireland, and no one knows that better than the right hon. Gentleman. Now that he has become a prisoner of the Tories, it is possible that he might learn a few tactics from them.

We are told that by some extraordinary means this proposal about the Parliament Act will impose a new crisis on the economic crisis. Much as I have meditated on this problem I cannot work it out. Will the miners strike because we are going to take over the House of Lords? Are the steel workers going to down tools because there is to be an amendment of the Parliament Act? Will the land workers refuse to milk cows because of this constitutional change? It is rubbish and humbug, and the Opposition know it. I can understand the rage we see on the opposite side of the House when it is known that the Government are to take measures which will deprive the Opposition of their undemocratic weapon. They see the giant on whom they relied about to be laid low and impotent. I hope that we shall see the House of Lords reduced to the position of the giant who is described thus in "Pilgrim's Progress": As for the other giant, though he be yet alive, he is, by reason of age, and also of the many shrewd brushes that he met with in his younger days, grown so crazy and so stiff in his joints, that he can do little more than sit in his Cave's mouth, grinning at Pilgrims as they go by, and biting his nails, because he cannot come at them. That is the state I would like to see the House of Lords reduced to, and I congratulate the Government on the salutary action which they intend to take.

What is the case put by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford on this Amendment? It is that the Socialistic experiment in this country, the Socialist Government now in power, has paralysed the productive system of this land. That is the whole of the Opposition's case. The right hon. Gentleman says that we are witnessing the complete failure of State planning. He says that the mainspring has been broken, and the whole of his attack is based on the charge that we have paralysed the country's productive system. But what are the facts? The right hon. Gentleman said that he had spent a lot of time in trying to discover the position. It is a pity that he did not look up the facts, because anyone who does so will discover that the people of this country are producing more goods today than they ever did in their lives.

If anyone will read such a paper as the "Economist," which is hostile to the Government, he will find that they say that the British community is producing between 10 and 20 per cent. more than it did in 1938. I agree with the hon. Member for East Middlesbrough (Mr. A. Edwards) that some things could be done to improve the Civil Service, but even with those difficulties, with all the other difficulties we had after the war, in view of the fact that two years ago 8,000,000 people were devoted to war purposes, and that we have had an immense upheaval in the world since then, the people of Britain are producing more goods today than ever before. I say that it is the duty of every patriotic citizen who wants to help his country at this time to tell the world those facts. Why does not the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford do it?