Orders of the Day — Nationalisation

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 2nd November 1948.

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Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Plymouth, Devonport 12:00 am, 2nd November 1948

In the past, the consumer of steel has had to take his steel at the price decided by the Federation. The question we want Members opposite to consider is, who shall make the decision as to the price at which steel should be distributed—a private body or a public body?

The second argument of the hon. Gentleman against nationalisation was that it was absolutely wrong for him to be compelled to put some of his money into businesses into which he did not want his money to go. I think it is absolutely right that he should have some of his money put into businesses into which he does not want it to go. One of the things which was wrong with this country, one of the causes of the legacy with which this Government was left, was that sufficient steps were not taken to compel people like the hon. Gentleman opposite to put their money into businesses where it was most needed. Because of that the country was left with a decadent coal industry, and steel and electrical industries which had not expanded as much as they should have done. We are not prepared to allow the coal, steel and electricity industries to be left in the hands of people like the hon. Member, however much we like his nature and applaud the fashion in which he advances views to which the Tory Party have not the courage to subscribe.

This Debate, apart from the eloquent speech of the hon. Member for South Edinburgh, has been something of a fiasco. It is supposed to be a Vote of Censure on the Government. There are half a dozen of the better looking Members of the party opposite assembled to carry it through, but it has been a most pitiable effort. This was to be a great attack on the monstrous proposal of a Government that was forcing nationalisation down the throats of the people—though there are very few throats opposite at the moment. It is a pity that the Tory Party did not bring some more along. What is instructive is to compare the kind of argument advanced in this Debate with that advanced a year ago.

The Amendment we are discussing today refers almost entirely to nationalisation. There is hardly any other criticism of the Government in it. A year ago, however, the attack was of a much wider nature. The Amendment then put down by the Opposition said that the Government had failed to show adequate leadership or administrative competence, had revealed no plans for dealing with the economic crisis and, as a result, was to be condemned. No one would deny that steps to deal with the economic crisis which persistently faces this country is one of the most important matters we should discuss. But it is remarkable that in contriving to support a Vote of Censure at this most critical time in the history of this Parliament the Opposition have not mentioned national leadership and administrative competence, as they did a year ago.

It is perhaps even more instructive to remember what the Opposition said a year ago when attacking the Government. The right hon. Member for Woodford, who moved the Amendment on that occasion—and it is significant that he is not here today to do the same again—said that we were travelling along the wrong road, that in a year or so we should be worse off, that we were being led down a dark tunnel with no hope of daylight at the end of it, that the country's affairs were being paralysed by the Government's efforts and that the main charge against the Government was that they had broken the main-spring of the country's productive system. All the lesser lights of the Conservative Party took up the cry. The right hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton), who was very busy on that occasion but who is not very active on this, said that the export targets which had been outlined by the Chancellor were quite unattainable. He went on to say that many people in the United States believed that we were work shy, that our prestige had sunk to nothing and, in his peroration, added that we were a mendicant nation.

That is the kind of leadership which has been provided by the Opposition during recent months. They do not turn up to argue these matters out in debate, but are content to make these charges on platforms outside this House. We all know that things have turned out very unfortunately for the Opposition in the past year, and that most of the targets which were described as unattainable have, in the main, been reached. We know that production is considerably greater than before the war. We know that it has increased in this country faster than in any other country in Europe. These facts are known to other people as well, and I think it is shameful that, so far as I am aware, no tribute to these achievements has been paid by the Leader of the Conservative Party. It is also a shameful thing that Mr. Hoffman, an American, should have uttered the facts which the Opposition had not the grace and generosity to admit.

There was some laughter earlier today during a singularly eloquent peroration by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, when he said he would quote from a paper called "Tribune." The Opposition did not laugh, however, when they heard the quotation because they realised that it was powerful, and that perhaps it was Mr. Hoffman himself who said it. There are plenty more where that came from. There is the statement of Mr. Hoffman himself, and I do not think it can be read too often: I am going back to America with the clear impression that the United Kingdom has made remarkable progress. The very gallant and successful effort which Great Britain has put up to build up exports and hold down imports, and achieve financial stability. is one which commands the admiration of the world. Yes, it commands the admiration of Mr. Hoffman but not the admiration of the Leader of the Opposition. I think it is mean. Mr. Hoffman does not call us a mendicant nation. He has not gone back to America to repeat what was said by the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Gammans) that this country is begging. That is not what Mr. Hoffman is saying, but that is what our patriots over here are saying.

When the right hon. Member for Woodford was in charge of our affairs during the war he was always very severe on any one who criticised him and he always described such critics as crabs. None of the right hon. Gentleman's critics in the war ever showed themselves so crustacean as the right hon. Gentleman himself. Now when he is rapidly descending into his political second childhood it is rather melancholy that of this man, whose name has figured so largely in the history of this country, it has to be said that in the last few years of his life and of his political record every time he opened his mouth he did injury to his country. It is a pitiable fact that the Leader of the Conservative Opposition is not prepared to pay any such tribute as we have had from Mr. Hoffman and from others who have examined the facts. He makes these wild and inaccurate charges——