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 Arthur Greenwood Mr Arthur Greenwood , Wakefield 12:00 am, 29th October 1947

This afternoon what I shall challenge is the right of the present Leader of the Opposition to any place in the making of the future, because I do not think he understands what it is all about. We had from the Leader of the Opposition yesterday, and again today, anathema upon anathema. We have had nothing from the intellectual forces opposite—such as they are—of any constructive kind whatever. I shall revert to that in a moment.

Here, I should like to say something about the programme for this third Session of Parliament. The first two Sessions have been hard; and I take my responsibility for some of the hardnesses that there were during those two Sessions. I think it is right, if we can, to lighten the burden somewhat in the third Session. I am not a reformed character in this matter. I held this view during the second Session. When one looks at the programme for this Session—and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bromley admitted that most of it was non-controversial, which is broadly true—one sees elements in it which could not be opposed by either side of the House. It might have been thought, six or eight months ago, that one of the most hotly contested and bitterly fought Bills would have been a Bill about India. Thank God that Bill is no longer necessary. The India Act was passed in the second Session, and if there is honesty of purpose and real patriotism on the other side of the House, then the Burma and Ceylon Bills will follow the same course. [Interruption.] Had the Leader of the Opposition been Prime Minister, he would have avoided bloodshed at the cannon's mouth. Instead of one little corner in the North of India being disturbed and troublesome, the whole of India would today have been in flames. The argument I am putting is that the India Act having reached the Statute Book without any serious challenge from the other side, the Burma and Ceylon Bills should follow the same course.

On the home front we shall see, after 40 years of propaganda and toil on the part of some of us, the end of the Poor Law system. I was very glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton), in moving the Address in reply to the King's Speech, paid attention to the great changes which have taken place. I, personally, shall feel a very proud man, because I have been interested in this question for a long time, as some of my Northern colleagues know. I shall welcome the obliteration from the Statute Book of the horrors of the Poor Law system. Are the Opposition going to oppose that? No, they dare not do that. They cannot oppose the rectification of the charges between the local authorities and the State, although there may be certain things which will cause a serious difference of opinion.

I am sure I shall not make a speech which will receive universal approval from all quarters. There is a nationalisation Bill included in the programme to deal with gas. I was in favour of that earlier in the year, but I changed my mind later in the Session. I would have preferred to see iron and steel in the programme, for reasons which hon. Members opposite will not appreciate. The right hon. Gentleman has no right to say, as he said today, that it is not going to be done. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, in his opening speech this Session, pledged this Parliament to deal with iron and steel in accordance with the policy of my party, and that undertaking I accept without reservation. I say, however, that in my view now—and I admit I have changed my opinion; it is not a crime if a man sincerely and honestly changes his opinion—it would have been wiser to have taken iron and steel.

The right hon. Gentleman has said that output is high, and there was a rumour that if we started playing with this industry there would be great perturbation of mind, unsettlement and so on, but I would point out that this policy has been known since the last General Election. We have raised hopes among hon. Members on this side, and fears in the minds of hon. Members opposite, but this year doubts have arisen on this side because it was felt that our undertakings were not going to be fulfilled. I came to the conclusion—and I am speaking for myself—that the wiser course would have been to have faced the problem this Session and to have got the row over. I do not believe that the House of Lords will turn down the gas Bill. But, there is to be another Measure. I am no lover of the House of Lords. I can see no place for hereditary peers in the middle of the 20th century. Had the steel Bill been introduced this Session, the need for the use of the Parliament Act-as it was passed might have arisen, but no need would have arisen for tinkering with it. I am expressing a purely personal view, and my right hon. Friends on the Government Front Bench will, of course, disagree with me. I regard this as a very doubtful political expedient on which we are entering this Session, for reasons entirely different from those of right hon. Gentlemen opposite.

We heard statements about the economic crisis made yesterday and today by Members opposite. They have to make up their minds whether or not there is an economic crisis. Their speeches vary. Sometimes it is a grave economic crisis, sometimes it is a manufactured thing, and sometimes it is supposed to have been created almost deliberately by the Prime Minister and his colleagues. I wish they would make up their minds. There is a Member of the House of Lords who used to be a Member of the House of Commons of whom it was said he had one foot in the Middle Ages and the other in the League of Nations, but the speech of the Leader of the Opposition showed that he had one foot in the United States and the other in the Dark Ages. Although his right hon. Friend has tried today to impress on the House that the Government lack plans, he still in his heart of hearts sticks to his plan, while his great warrior and great leader does not want anything of the kind. After the speech of the Leader of the Opposition yesterday, the real slogan of the Tory Party is "Back to Orpingtonism", whether they are to be Buff Orpingtons, I do not know, not being a poultry expert. I heard it said yesterday that the hon. Member for Orpington (Sir W. Smithers) was the master of the Tories, and someone said in my hearing that there were now two because the Leader of the Opposition had joined him. It is a sad end to a party which claims to have been a great factor in our national life.

I remember sitting in this Chamber, on the opposite side of the House, when the present Leader of the Opposition was Prime Minister, and we were discussing a Motion about the rebuilding of our old Chamber. The right hon. Gentleman spoke passionately in favour of the rectangular Chamber. I can see him now as he described how, in semi-circular Chambers, men went from loyalty to loyalty day by day; how he himself had gone across the Floor more often than any other Member of the House. I agreed with the rectangular Chamber because of the advantage to the two-party system. I earned the deep and almost undying hatred of what was left of the Liberal Party. My old friend, Sir Percy Harris, almost died of a bleeding heart. I still stand by what I said then, that when there is a thunderstorm, a crisis, men and women in this House must make up their minds as to which umbrella they are sheltering under. If the Liberal Party want a little parasol of their own they can have it, but I am talking by and large. This defence of the rectangular Chamber is a serious part of my argument. It supports my view that the strength of democracy in this country is based on the two-party system. I admit that we were usurpers at that time. What is left of the other party can be discarded; I can apply to them that tragic phrase, "displaced persons." The truth is that in this country we have, in the active life of the nation, whether national or local, whether it be in industry, commerce, or anything else, two types of character—the adventurous, who will march and take chances, and the cautious who will say, "Thus far and no farther." At that time I did not call them reactionaries, but now that the war is over, and we can speak more freely, I can say that that is what I meant.

What have the Opposition, those cautious, timid, cowardly men, to offer this country and the world? Nothing, except a return to the dark, bad, and bitter past. I have never heard any constructive proposals from them. On the contrary, I have seen peeping out from speech after speech the old Tory remedy for every economic crisis—economies at the expense of the poor. It has always been, Economise." If that is a constructive proposal then God forgive them. The right hon. Member for Woodford, in a speech, he made at Brighton, said he had no policy at that moment, but that when the time came for him to put one forward—if he ever does—he will have something. He has a jack in the box. Why not release the spring? Let us have a look at it. The box is empty or the jack in the box has lost its spring. The Opposition cannot have a policy; their roots are so deep in the past that they cannot now see the sunlight in the air. Every speech they have made has hinted at economies in our social expenditure in all directions. They cannot offer anything else. They do not understand that they are living in a changing world. This is a changing world. The world is going through bitterness and trial now. This country has been going through a social revolution during the past two years, a revolution not yet completed, and one which must still be pursued. The one constructive line of activity today is that of social democracy. There is no other. The old system is outworn; it is dead. It cannot be revived. The only thing that could possibly take its place would be something infinitely worse, something Fascist inspired.

We are marching now towards social democracy. As many of my hon. Friends know, these two words mean a great deal to me. This is to be the justification for victory in the war. The second world war was not fought against totalitarianism. It was fought by our enemies against social democracy on the Continent, and if we are to justify victory now, if we are to vindicate ourselves for the sacrifices we made, then we must for ever extirpate from our economic and political life every vestige of totalitarianism. That we can only do by this approach to social democracy. We have travelled, in a generation, a very long way and we shall travel a good deal further yet. Social democracy, deepened in its purpose because of our victory against hell during the war, fortified by a richer experience, will, I am certain, march forward. I say to the House that we must choose between chaos or social democracy. Either way will be hard; one way will be ruin. Social democracy will be the final victory.