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 Frank Beswick Mr Frank Beswick , Uxbridge 12:00 am, 29th October 1947

But the hon. and gallant Member went on to say that their position has been ruined by the Government of those two years. What surprises me even more is why, if the hon. and gallant Gentleman has all this ability and prescience, of which he so freely boasts, he and his party did not do something about the gap in our overseas trade in the years before the war. If these business people are able to tackle these things in such a splendid fashion, how is it that even before the war this country was heading rapidly for bankruptcy? [Interruption.] I would refer the hon. Member to the figures in the Bulletin of the Oxford University Institute of Statistics which were quoted yesterday by my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot), when he pointed out that, taking account of the rise in prices, the adverse trade balance in 1938 was almost the same as in 1946.

I am a little disappointed that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) is not in his place. When I asked if he would give way when he was speaking this afternoon, I wanted to ask him if the term "hedging," which he used today, would have applied equally to the operations of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) in relation to India. When things appeared to be going well, when India and Pakistan were coming into the Commonwealth of Nations, the right hon. Member for Woodford offered his congratulations. The speeches of the right hon. Gentleman on the Front Bench beside him were also congratulatory in respect of the services which the Prime Minister had rendered. Then the right hon. Gentleman comes along and makes the sort of remarks which he made yesterday. The attitude which the Opposition have taken up over India is completely dishonest, and does no credit to our political life.

The Opposition have derived a considerable amount of satisfaction from the speech made yesterday from these benches about the delays and the restrictions resulting from an economy which is dependent upon certain permits and controls. I would say two things about these controls. First, I appreciate the frustrations to which industry at the moment is subject, but I believe that those frustrations would be as nothing to the kind of embitterment which would follow if the controls were taken off and, in the words of the Leader of the Opposition, the unbridled horses charged hither and thither. The monopolists would take the greatest share of what raw materials were going, irrespective of justice to the smaller man, and quite without regard to the needs of the community as a whole.

But also, if we are considering the inefficiency to which my hon. Friend referred in relation to these delays, we must consider the kind of inefficiency which resulted from the system before the war. I remember very well as a boy going into the woods with my father and my brothers to gather sticks to drag back home in order to have a fire. We did that in the company of men who were skilled miners who would have been only too glad to go down the pits to get coal, if they had been permitted to do so for a fair remuneration. It was a common sight to see men, women and children at the dirt heap in the pit yard scratching about among the dirt and bind for a little bit of combustible material with which to make a fire, and yet the men were skilled miners denied the opportunity to mine coal.

That is the kind of inefficiency we must bear in mind when considering the frustrations and delays of the present day. However, we must be constructive. I would support the suggestion that a committee be set up, probably representative of both sides of the House, consisting of men who have had experience in these matters, with the object of seeing what could be done to streamline the controls and to ensure that the system of giving permits to industry is modelled in such a way as to be as efficient as possible. Something could be done, and I think that the Government would be well advised if they took advice from the many hon. Members experienced in these things.

The hon. Member for Orpington (Sir W. Smithers) is much abused these days, both at Brighton and in this House, but it seems to me that amongst all the chaff he strews about there is one little grain of truth to which I would like to call attention. I refer to the steadfast fight he has put up for a stabilisation of the currency. Something should be done in this matter. Very often remarks which my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield '(Mr. Arthur Greenwood) made some years ago about "Pounds, shillings and pence being meaningless symbols" are distorted by spokesmen opposite. What my right hon. Friend meant was that the real criterion of the wealth of the country was the amount of goods and services it is capable of producing. It is not true that we on this side of the House do not pay proper attention to the virtue of thrift. Indeed, I would say that the Cooperative movement and the trade unions which gave birth to the political parties that made this Government possible, were pioneers in teaching the virtue of thrift. An hon. Members laughs, but let me say that my memory takes me back to the time when as a very tiny child my first connection with the Co-operative movement was to be given a bank book by the local Coop. Penny Bank. On Saturday afternoon I would go along and pay my penny or twopence into the bank. I was encouraged to do that and I will always remember the inscription over the door of the premises which said: Take care of the pennies and the pounds will take care of themselves. I think of that very often when hon. Members opposite say that the £2 million or £3 million of dollars saved on newsprint, or the £7,500,000 saved by the abolition of the basic petrol ration, are small items not worth bothering about.