Debate on the Address

Part of Orders of the Day — King's Speech – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 7th November 1951.

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Photo of Mr Angus Maude Mr Angus Maude , Ealing South 12:00 am, 7th November 1951

If the hon. Member already wishes to get the taste of the General Election out of his mouth, for which I do not blame him, I suggest that he leaves the Chamber until I have finished, because I am dealing with the points of the hon. Member for Accrington, which, I think, I have a perfect right to do.

In the election, for example, the candidate opposed to me, who, I have no doubt, was a very good candidate, and candidates in constituencies near mine which I visited, gave no indication whatsoever to the electors in their speeches that the situation with which the Government would be faced upon being returned would be the situation with which my right hon. Friend has been dealing today. We heard nothing whatever about a balance of payments crisis equal to that of 1947 or of 1949. In fact, the whole way in which the economic question was dealt with from the platforms of the Socialist Party was singularly reminiscent, to my mind, of the way in which the Supplementary Estimates for the National Health Service were dealt with in 1950: they were mentioned as seldom as possible.

The hon. Member for Accrington went on to say that the Chancellor today caused the hope of 300,000 houses being built to vanish in smoke. In fact, of course, quite the opposite was the case. For the first time—certainly in my experience of the House, which, I know, is not very long—we did hear somebody who is willing to tackle fundamentally the causes which have prevented an increased number of houses from being built—among them the fact that the building industry has been overloaded with competing forms of building, some of them far less necessary and far less ardently desired by the people of this country than houses to live in. He proposed to cut some of those, if I understood him aright, to make sure that the the way is clear for building more houses.

The hon. Member went on to say that no mention had been made of the danger of price rises in those commodities whose imports were to be cut, his simple argument being that since they were to be scarcer the demand for them would make the prices rise. That overlooks the fact that my right hon. Friend did also mention steps which he proposed to take to reduce the degree of inflation in the domestic economy. He did make one point quite clear, that if we cut the inflationary effects of import reductions, by measures to reduce the amount of inflation at home, price rises should not take place, particularly in view of the fact that the substitute commodities with which those reduced imports compete are already either rationed or price controlled.

I do not think it is necessary for me to deal in any detail with the suggestion that the cessation of stockpiling amounts to a cut in the re-armament programme. Of course it does not, because there was no suggestion whatever that we were to cut imports of the materials currently being used in the production of armaments. So there really is no foundation for the rather mischievous suggestion that we were proposing to cut the current rearmament programme.

The final question in the hon. Member's speech, which I should just mention, was that of House of Lords reform, and he appeared to think that immediate proposals should already have been made. I have no doubt that this matter will be dealt with by one of my right hon. Friends, but I may in the meantime suggest to the hon. Member that, unlike his own party when dealing with the university seats, we prefer, in our party, to make constitutional changes by all-party agreement as the result of discussions between parties; and we are pledged to initiate those discussions.