Orders of the Day — Economic Position

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 30th July 1952.

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Photo of Mr Aneurin Bevan Mr Aneurin Bevan , Ebbw Vale 12:00 am, 30th July 1952

Yes, paralysing the springs of industry. The hon. Member for Aberdeen, South is too disingenuous now, just a few years afterwards, in imagining that we have forgotten what was said on that occasion.

Perhaps I may be permitted to go back over the history of the defence programme because the right hon. Gentleman was good enough to refer to me in the course of his speech and to refer to what I said. I do not do so, I assure hon. Members in all parts of the House, merely to say, "I told you so," because that is a very easy thing to say, but because I think I am entitled to defend hon. Members and myself against certain charges that have been made on this matter both inside and outside the House.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to the speech I made when the defence programme was launched on 15th February, 1951, and I want to read a paragraph from the speech to show that, as early as that, I had begun to develop deep misgivings about the economic effect of the re-armament programme on the British economy. I said: The fact of the matter is, as everybody knows, that the extent to which stockpiling has already taken place, the extent to which the civil economy is being turned over to defence purposes in other parts of the world, is dragging prices up everywhere. Furthermore, may I remind the right hon. Gentleman"— the present Prime Ministerthat if we turn over the complicated machinery of modern industry to war preparation too quickly, or try to do it too quickly, we shall do so in a campaign of hate, in a campaign of hysteria, which may make it very difficult to control that machine when it has been created."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th February, 1951; Vol. 484, c. 736.] This was in the defence debate in the course of a speech which hon. Members opposite and hon. Members on this side of the House have quoted on many occasions to try to show that on that occasion I, with some hon. Friends, had accepted full responsibility for the re-armament programme—as indeed we had, but it was necessary also, as we emphasised then, for the British people and the world to recognise the consequences of trying to do it too quickly.

Further, when the debate took place certain precautionary words were put into the Prime Minister's speech. Those precautionary words to which the Leader of the Opposition has referred on many occasions and which have become the sheet anchor of some of my hon. Friends, were actually inserted in the Prime Minister's speech at my instance. That was because when we had reached the defence debate it was perfectly apparent from the rising prices and by the quick expansion of the American war machine that it might not be possible for us to get the machine tools either in sufficient quantity or of the right kind, or the raw materials.

Therefore, I insisted that we should put in our statements at that time cautionary words that the carrying out of the defence programme on the scale suggested would be dependent upon the necessary supplies of machine tools and raw materials. I could have wished also that at that time we had stated that it was also dependent upon the viability of the British economy.

So this is not, as the right hon. Gentleman has said, an accident—he said the other day, in a most ungenerous fashion, that we had been proved right by accident—because we particularised, with infinitely more circumstantiality than he has done in his speech today, exactly the reasons why it could not be done. We said it, first, because we knew very well at that time that the Americans had begun to roam the world for machine tools and could not get them anywhere—one of the reasons why the right hon. Gentleman is complaining today—and that we would have to spend a much larger sum to get the same weapons as were contained in the original programme because there was a spate of quite undisciplined stockpiling.

That sent up prices everywhere and they have remained up, not at the same level, but at a very much higher level than before the defence programme and ever since. We also said, and I want my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Gaitskell) to remember this, that the estimate of increased production was wrong. The right hon. Member for Leeds, South said yesterday: I hope the Chancellor realises that if one chooses one's economist carefully one can be fairly sure of what he will say."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th July, 1952; Vol. 504, c. 1315.) The right hon. Gentleman is an economist. I am not an economist; I would never say such naughty things as that about economists. The right hon. Gentleman had apparently chosen his economists and his economists gave him the wrong advice.