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Government Policy

Part of Orders of the Day — King's Speech – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 29th October 1947.

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Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley 12:00 am, 29th October 1947

In the Debates which have so far taken place on the Loyal Address there have been two outstanding contributions. Last week the House listened with grave attention and respect to the Minister for Economic Affairs. Many hon. Members have since carefully read and re-read that statement. It was cast in a grim mould. There was little deviation from its sombre theme. It was felt by all its hearers to be of vital, perhaps historic, importance. Yesterday, the House listened to one of the most powerful and overwhelming of the many orations which it has heard from the greatest figure in public life today. The Minister for Economic Affairs, save in his elevated peroration, never deviated from a cold and dispassionate but relentless presentation of the case. My right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) displayed all the variety of talent and genius which have made him one of the greatest orators in history.

Yet these two speeches, for all their contrast, had one thing in common. Both were formidable indictments of the policy which His Majesty's Government have followed over the last two years. Indeed, in some respects, having regard to the occasion and the position of the speaker, of the two perhaps the former was almost the more damning. This Amendment accuses Ministers in respect both of their past actions, or inactions, and of their future intentions. Two years ago the Socialist Party was in a strong and apparently inexpugnable position. A large majority in the House of Commons, even if not based upon a majority of votes cast, gave them an overwhelming advantage. The Government contained a number of tried Ministers who had learned experience in the testing days of war. This superiority was reflected by a general attitude of members of the triumphant party in the early Debates of the Parliament. We were treated with a mixture of arrogance and condescension which we might have resented had we not realised it would be so fleeting.

I remember that the Leader of the House used humorously to chaff us on our inability to conduct the functions of Opposition with sufficient vigour. He offered to give us lessons; but that was before he and his friends became so sensitive to criticism. Indeed, never have a Government started a Parliament with such a fund of good will. Apart from the convinced Socialists whose suffrages they had obtained, they had with them a large part of the middle classes as well as the general body of organised labour. They had a substantial support from that most important body of the electorate which has little or no party affiliations They had a friendly Press—[Interruption']. They had not started to muzzle the Press then. That came later. Indeed, in all sections of the public, Parliament, Press, and the people, the general feeling was one of good will. Even among formal opponents the mood was one of "Give them a chance."

But there was one fatal worm in the bud, one lurking disease which, like a poison, began to eat into them from the very start. This Government ever since they took office have been haunted by their promises. Of course, I know that the Leader of the House, astute politician as he is, has been able—as he did last night—to quote a few saving phrases, a few warning sentences, which were put into the pronunciamentos of his party and which he was able to call in aid. Of course, that it why he put them there. It is an operation which, if I have been properly informed, is known in another connection as "hedging"—£50 each way on Utopia and £5 on that likely outsider Austerity. Let each hon. Member opposite remember and honestly search his heart and mind. Let him ask himself this question—Is it not a fact that the general impression created on the public mind two years ago was that a Labour Government would bring into being—I do not say a universal millennium in a fortnight—I think it was housing that was to be done in a fortnight—but at least a good long step towards it? Abroad, a Socialist Foreign Minister would automatically achieve a deep and sympathetic friendship with the rulers of the Soviet Union. At home, after all the sufferings of the war, conditions of clothing, transport, housing, food and leisure—in a word, all general comfort would rise to standards hitherto undreamed of,

I will not weary the House with the quotations from the speeches of 1945. Ministers must be almost as sick of them by this time as we are. How far away it all seems now. These dreams have melted like the snows of yester-year, and now comes the inevitable judgment upon them. The Minister for Economic Affairs will recognise these words, for he wrote them himself many years ago: Continual professions without performance are the most damaging form of advocacy. It drives away people to bitter disillusionment. And yet, so skilfully was this propaganda conducted through the later years of the war, with increasing assiduity, that not only the congregations but the preachers themselves became victims of their own heresies; for they persisted in this false mood of optimism, in spite of the warnings, for over two years, and some of them, to judge from yesterday's Debate, are not convinced yet. They were remarkable for their blindness. Perhaps the most farcical example, which I cannot refrain from quoting, is to be found in a splendid piece of oratory delivered at Liverpool on 6th October, 1946, by the Attorney-General, and for which I understand he has not yet apologised. On that day he delivered himself of the following rhapsody: The dawn is here. We are marching towards the sunshine of a greater liberty than our people have ever known. To make the people happy, to let the people sing is certainly the object of the Labour Government. Well, I do not know what song they are singing now, unless it be to their former Prime Minister—" Will ye no come back again? "

What a record of two years work! First, the fuel crisis. Does anyone seriously maintain today, except the Secretary of State for War, that the fuel crisis was well handled last year? Even he must be a little dizzy by his sudden transition to the Horse Guards. All this sad story is so well known that I need not tell it once again. The wounds of the last winter upon our economy are still unhealed. Then the food crisis comes along, and once more, conflicting statements, confusion, uncertainty and disorder. I am not myself what is called "calorie-minded," but since it is the accepted standard of measurement, let us remember that the Minister for Economic Affairs told us that we are to be reduced from 2,870 calories to "just below 2,700." It is, perhaps, worth remembering that a careful and scientific investigation has shown that, at the worst moment of the slump in 1932, in Stockton-on-Tees, then my constituency, the unemployed man consumed 2,910 calories; and, in Newcastle in 1933, the same scientific inquiry showed a total consumption of 2,837 as the average intake of the unemployed man. Now, the average for the whole country is to be under 2,700.

Next, the housing fiasco. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House last night made a spirited if rather stale attempt to refute the charge against his own administration by a comparison between the period after this war and the period two years immediately following the first war. It is easy to be wise after the event and, indeed, as somebody wittily said, it is wise to be wise after the event. The purpose of looking back to the past is to learn its lessons and apply them. That is what the National Government did in the very throes of war. The Leader of the House did not tell us that. He did not tell us of the plans made by that Government, of which he and some of us on this side of the House were Members—plans to build up the labour force to a very high figure, and that force has, in fact, been available to Ministers. At the same time, plans were made to manufacture various types of prefabricated houses. [An HON. MEMBER:" Give the figures."] If the hon. Member will wait a minute, we will come to the figures. The right hon. Gentleman did not analyse the figures—