Orders of the Day — Sterling Exchange Rate

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 29th September 1949.

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Photo of Mr Aneurin Bevan Mr Aneurin Bevan , Ebbw Vale 12:00 am, 29th September 1949

What my right hon. and learned Friend did say in the course of his speech was that a severe deflationary policy would produce mass unemployment. As a matter of fact, it has produced mass unemployment. I should like to call the attention of the House to one fundamental fact. It is this. In between the war years this nation was under the guidance of the right hon. Gentleman and hon. Gentlemen opposite. They were the people who were mainly responsible for shaping policy.

Over the weekend I went to a meeting. I was taunted here with what I had said there. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Bristol (Mr. Stanley), in winding up his speech, referred to it. He said I had described myself as "an ordinary chap." Well, I will explain to the House why I did. [Laughter.] Let hon. Members not wince before the lash falls. I was speaking to an audience mainly composed of miners and I wanted to make it quite clear to them that what would result in this present crisis would not be what happened before, because there were ordinary chaps and not extraordinary chaps here in charge; because when the extraordinary chaps were in charge they half starved.

The right hon. Member for West Bristol was Minister of Labour in 1934 and 1935. He was the man who introduced in the House of Commons, with the assistance of the right hon. Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson), who was then his Parliamentary Secretary, the unemployment regulations which produced such a flood of protests from all over the country that there were stormy Parliamentary scenes; and the right hon. Gentleman soon after had to vacate his office.

We remember these things. There is now another financial crisis, and poor folk up and down the country, with memories of those dark days, are afraid of what may happen to them. They are afraid that the extraordinary men may come back, for they know what happened when the extraordinary men were in charge, and they do not want it to happen again. That is the reason why I wanted to reassure them. In those years the industrial fabric of Great Britain was undermined. It was easier to get British capital outside Great Britain than inside Great Britain. The three major industries upon which we depended, textiles and coal and steel, were undermined; the craft skill of our people was dissipated; and hundreds and thousands were driven abroad by despair. In fact, under Conservative Governments in those days we passed the prize to the United States of America. We passed it deliberately.

Those are the people the right hon. Gentleman would ask the country to send back. You see, Sir, they are the same ones. The right hon. Gentleman thinks that he is the Leader of the Conservative Party. He is not. He is their decoy. There is a little disturbance going on at the moment inside the Conservative Party as to whether the right hon. Gentleman is a liability or an asset. It is a very considerable disturbance. The rumbles have reached us. Now, he of all men ought not to be caught, because he has had great experience. He ought to know that the Conservative Party have always tried to find a false face. They have always tried to find people who have endeared themselves to their fellow countrymen, in order to bring the Conservative Party back once more into power.

The right hon. Gentleman should know what they did with the right hon. David Lloyd George. He should remember what they did with J. Ramsay MacDonald. If he capitalises the reputation he still has in the affections of the British people to get them, the Conservative Party, once more back to power, he will not be in office long himself. They will fling him aside like a soiled glove. When the right hon. Gentleman tells the House of Commons about his accomplishments as a Minister, does he not remember that, although he was himself one of the most brilliant Parliamentarians of the day, a crowd of mediocrities kept him out of office for nine years, and that when eventually, in the war years, it became necessary to have a leader from that side of the House—because it had to be from that side of the House—with unrivalled gifts of speech and of evoking courage, it was the Labour Party that virtually made him Prime Minister?

I do beg and pray the right hon. Gentleman to realise that. It was one of the most vivid of my Parliamentary experiences to see those two great Parliamentarians, two great men, Lloyd George and the right hon. Gentleman—sitting in the House of Commons, with unsurpassed gifts, kept out of office by a crowd of people who were doing nothing but undermining the industrial fabric of Great Britain. But I need do no other than read his own description. In 1938 the right hon. Gentleman made this speech: When I think of the fair hopes of a long peace which still lay before Europe at the beginning of 1933 when Herr Hitler first obtained power, and of all the opportunities of arresting the growth of the Nazi power which have been thrown away, when I think of the immense combinations and resources which have been neglected or squandered, I cannot believe that a parallel exists in the whole course of history. So far as this country is concerned the responsibility must rest with those who have the undisputed control of our political affairs. They neither prevented Germany from rearming, nor did they rearm ourselves in time. They quarrelled with Italy without saving Ethiopia. They exploited and discredited the vast institution of the League of Nations and they neglected to make alliances and combinations which might have repaired previous errors, and thus they left us in the hour of trial without adequate national defence for effective international security."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th October, 1938; Vol. 339, c. 366–7.] But those are the people he would lead back. There they are. Those are the guilty men—all of them. They are the ones that he, day after day, was indicting in the House of Commons. Does he think the nation would be grateful to him if he could persuade the nation to put that lot of bankrupt intelligences back into office again? The right hon. Gentleman has a great historical sense. Surely he must realise what history would say about it if he succeeded in doing that. Even his great services during the war would not compensate for such a calamity.

The times immediately ahead of us are going to be extremely difficult. The Government have one very great asset in these circumstances. The Government share the confidence of the organised trade union movement. We have asked them for restraint. We have asked them in these circumstances to develop a higher sense of morality than is revealed by some elements in the City of London. We have asked the miners and the steel workers and the railwaymen and the organised workers of Great Britain not to imitate the obscene plundering that went on, on the Monday, in Throgmorton Street. We have asked them not to exploit the nation's difficulties at this moment, and we are satisfied that we shall get their response.

The General Council of the Trades Union Congress in the last two years has displayed the utmost statesmanship. Although there have been strikes they have been negligible compared with what they were before the war. The vast mass of the British people has shown a sense of responsibility and restraint. We believe—in fact, we are convinced—that it is possible for us by our own exertions to win independence. We are satisfied that there exists amongst our own people a deep consciousness of the needs of the time.

The right hon. Gentleman yesterday threw out a challenge. As far as we are concerned, we are not proposing at this moment to do anything other than give the leadership to the British people which we consider they need. Over the last 50 years the resources of our country overseas and at home has been dissipated. We have to build them up again. We shall do it because there has come to power in this country a different type of person. The right hon. Gentleman said yesterday that there was a Parliamentary democracy in Great Britain before there was a Labour Party. There was not. There was a Parliament here, but there was not democracy. His people were here. Mine were not. But in the course of the last two generations a new type has emerged in Britain, virile—