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 Clement Attlee Mr Clement Attlee , Stepney Limehouse 12:00 am, 29th October 1947

The Debate on the Address has taken a rather unusual course. The early stages were illuminated by the speech of my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Economic Affairs, and the whole House was impressed. Now, we have been having two days on an Amendment, an official motion of censure, but the tendency of all hon. Members, except the three right hon. Gentlemen told off to speak to it, has been to keep off the Amendment, and to make, very often quite useful, contributions on topics which were discussed in the earlier part of the King's Speech. Therefore, I am left to deal tonight mainly with three speeches, those of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lytfelton).

I would like, first, to look at the phraseology of this Amendment, in which I seem to recognise the hand of the Leader of the Opposition, because it starts off, very characteristically, by denouncing the Government for following a partisan policy, and that is a very revealing phrase. It is generally understood in this country that a Government is returned to carry out the policy of a particular majority party. The Leader of the Opposition always takes the view that he represents not a party view, but a national view. The Conservative policy, whatever it may be, is always the national policy. Of course, many hon. Members are comparatively new to this House, though the noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) will remember that, 38 years ago, the right hon. Gentleman was just the same, only then it was the Liberal Party.

I have refreshed my mind by looking up a book written in 1909 by the right hon. Gentleman, called "The People's Rights," and I find there that, in the particular pieces of policy advocated by the Liberal Party—Welsh Disestablishment, the Education Bill and so forth—they were all the party of the nation. Indeed, I found the actual phrase, because it is the Conservative Party that is always partisan. When these Liberal Measures came up in another place, the right hon. Gentleman said they were defeated on purely partisan lines. Therefore, we need not take much account of the word partisan. It has done good service, like other partisans, for many years and on both sides. This is an interesting book and I quote it without hesitation, because at the beginning, the right hon. Gentleman said: It is ammunition passed along the firing line. The right hon. Gentleman is on a different side of the firing line, but the ammunition is still in excellent condition.

I shall have occasion to use some of it later on. A partisan policy is simply a policy with which the right hon. Gentleman disagrees. I must say that it comes rather oddly from the right hon. Gentleman, because I have never known a party leader who more consistently followed out the good old maxim that it is the duty of the Opposition to oppose. During the last few years he has seized every opportunity to attack the Government, and I quite regard this Amendment as part of that consistency. He has freely attacked us on the ground that we were not giving the nation enough food; but we were equally at fault in spending too much money on food from abroad, when we ought to have been importing machinery and the Loan should have bought machinery and capital goods. We are accused of having built too few houses, and, equally, we are accused of having a too extensive investment programme. And every time that any particular difficulty has arisen, the right hon. Gentleman has always taken it, and run it for as long as he thought it was useful. There was a great noise about bread rationing—that it was not necessary. That line of attack was very quickly dropped. In the same way, he calls at one time for a reduction of the Armed Forces, and at another demands policies which would require their increase.