Debate on the Address

Part of Orders of the Day — King's Speech – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 1st November 1950.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Plymouth, Devonport 12:00 am, 1st November 1950

I am not making any attack on the sincerity of the right hon. Gentleman, but I would respect better the opinion he has now stated if he had got up and denounced his own Leader when his Leader was fighting against the whole Measure for liberating India as it passed through the House of Commons. The right hon. Gentleman was absent on those occasions, just as he was absent from the debate about the Burma loan, when he felt that the policy of his party was so disgraceful that he could not attend to see what happened.

Take another of the glowing tributes which the right hon. Gentleman has paid to another country; any country can be praised from the Tory benches except this country, but let us consider this one which was paid by the right hon. Gentleman. He said that he was very glad to see the manner in which the recent proposals about Marshall Aid had gone through Congress. I propose to say something of how those measures were put through Congress, and of the facts which were presented to Congress when they were put through.

Before I come to that however, turning now from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman on foreign affairs to his remarks on domestic matters and the consequences of the present rearmament programme, the problem seems to me to be how we are to sustain the standard of life of the British people at the same time as we need to meet a whole series of other demands. The first demand—I am not taking them in order of priority—is to continue to balance our foreign payments at a time when Marshall Aid will be disappearing.

I certainly congratulate the right hon. Gentleman, because since the White Paper was published showing that we have balanced our accounts for the past six months, for the first time since, I think, 1935 or 1936, he is, I believe, the first Conservative leader who has come within measurable distance of making any reference whatever to the balance of payments crisis. It was not mentioned at all yesterday by the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill). He talked a lot about it last year, and about this mendicant nation not being able to close the gap. His speeches during the two previous Debates on the Addresses in reply to the King's Speeches were about this nation not being able to close the gap and living on charity. We did not hear any of that, not even a reference to the balance of payments, yesterday. We did not hear a reference to it in the speech of the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) on the radio the other day. One might have thought that our closing of the gap in the previous six months, for the first time for some years, was a matter worth mentioning, but there was not one word about it in that broadcast.

The right hon. Member for Saffron Walden has carried off the crown; he is the first to mention it. What he said, I think, was that there has been improvement in this respect, although not enough. No one would imagine that this was a matter which we had been debating and discussing for the past five years, and that during that time we had been saying that the biggest economic problem facing us was how we were to close the gap and achieve economic independence. One would have thought that the Opposition would not have found it so disagreeable to say at least one good word about that achievement. That demand, however, is the first demand that we have to meet, and no doubt it will be difficult to meet.

The second demand which we have to meet, while seeking to sustain the standard of life of our people, is that if we are to carry out wise policies in the Far East and elsewhere we must increase the amount we are prepared to devote to colonial development and to the assistance of backward areas in the Far East. Do not let anyone "kid" himself about it: this means taking resources out of British production and giving to other people, which imposes a burden upon us.

The third thing we have to do is to maintain the capital investment programme, which, of course, includes the housing programme. But then comes the fourth demand. While we do all these other things, we must also fulfil the increasing needs for re-armament. This is altogether a very heavy burden upon the British people.

The miracle of the past five years is that we have been able to carry all these burdens and that our backs have not been broken. We have carried proportionately a much heavier defence programme than before the war, heavier even than the United States of America: and if we add together the amount of aid which we have given to other nations in the form of releases of sterling balances and the rest, plus the greater proportionate contribution we have made to defence than have the Americans, I say that in the past five years, despite all our difficulties, the British people have made at least as big a contribution to the free world by this form of aid as have the United States of America—and probably greater. That ought to be recognised. We never hear it said by anybody, but it is surely something which is worth boasting about. At the same time we have maintained a bigger capital investment programme than ever before the war, and considerably bigger than the Americans have done during this period, and we have made an enormous contribution to countries in backward areas. These are immense burdens.

The hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Nigel Davies) made some comparison between productivity in this country and in the U.S.A. It is not very fair to this country, however, to say we can make the comparison between 1938 and 1950 and imagine that the Americans have had to face the same situation as have the British throughout that period. [HON. MEMBERS: "Tell them who fought."] There is a good deal—[HON. MEMBERS: "It was not always the Tories who fought."] No, we do not want any sneers from hon. Gentlemen opposite. [Laughter.] The British people—[An HON. MEMBER: "Make it clear."] I am making it clear, because, apparently, it is left out of all Tory speeches.

I have had many interruptions from the benches opposite; there is nothing that angers Tories more than the facts. If they will not take the facts from me, perhaps they will take them from the document which was presented to Congress by the E.C.A. Mission to the United Kingdom, describing the facts and comparing what had been done in this country since the end of the war and what had been done in the United States. All the comparisons are very agreeable to this country. In production it is shown that we have made a comparable increase with the United States——