Orders of the Day — Housing Subsidies Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 15th February 1956.

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Photo of Mr Aneurin Bevan Mr Aneurin Bevan , Ebbw Vale 12:00 am, 15th February 1956

We have reached now the final stage of this Bill in this House, and I want to make one or two observations about what has happened since the Second Reading. The Minister will recall that discussions took place through the usual channels in order to come to some arrangement about the time to be allotted to Committee. I am not complaining that we did not have sufficient time. I think we had plenty of time—at least, plenty of time for the right hon. Gentleman to have changed his mind on several occasions. We decided for the convenience of the House to adopt a rather novel experiment. It was that we should have a self-imposed timetable, self-imposed on the Opposition, by which we would allot to the various Amendments what time we considered the Amendments themselves deserved. This was in my Parliamentary experience, which goes back over many years, an unusual device. We are now in the position to assess whether the experiment was justified or not.

The purpose of the experiment was not only to allow hon. Members to go home at 10 o'clock. It was not only to meet the convenience of Members of the House, but was also to try to find out whether such an arrangement would induce in the Government a more accommodating disposition. I am bound to say it was a complete failure. I have rarely seen a Bill less amended than this one— an important Bill of this sort which arouses intense opposition throughout the country, which has been opposed by all the local authority associations, which has been hotly debated in every council chamber in Great Britain, which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Lindgren) said in opening the debate for this side of the House today, has given occasion for unprecedented opposition by some local authority associations. Nevertheless, at the end of the Committee we had to recall that, apart from a triviality, there had been no Amendment of any sort accepted by the Government.

That is a pretty sorry picture, and I want to tell the right hon. Gentleman that it is nothing to be proud about. Anyone can sit there nowadays, in the present state of the party machines, with empty benches behind him. Throughout the Committee hardly any attention at all was given to the Measure by his followers. I believe they had to take some steps to whip up a few spokesmen today. It was obvious from the nature of the speeches they made that they had not had time to think about them very much. They had to make a show, and they made it, and we are grateful to them, because, after all, it is better to see threadbare limbs than no limbs at all. As far as I can see, a repetition of this experiment is not likely to be any more successful than this one has been. I state my own personal views without consulting my colleagues, but when we come to consider Bills of this stature in the future we shall have to reconsider the whole of this procedure, and whether we ought not to give hon. Members opposite a more uncomfortable time to make them a little bit more sensible.

I now turn to my second point, and I make it in all seriousness. This country is passing through a very grave crisis. We are in a very serious situation. In fact, in my opinion, we are in a worse position than at any time in the last twenty years. It is all the worse because of the fact that we are supposed to be prosperous. However, it may be that in a week or so we shall have a discussion on the economic situation.

Everyone is waiting to hear what the new Chancellor of the Exchequer has to propose in order to undo the mischief for part of which he himself was responsible. The reputation of one statesman has been used up in. the course of the last few years by attempts to produce the policies which his back-benchers wanted him to produce. He produced them—no one can say that he did not—and he has produced an economic crisis at the same time.

This Measure, which is a major Measure, has to be considered against the background of the country's economic and financial circumstances. It also has to be considered against the background of the fact that for this Measure hon. Members opposite possess no mandate at all. I want to remind them once more, because they will now hear about it very much more than they have done, that at the last General Election they deliberately deceived the country. They withheld from the knowledge of the electorate the proposals which they knew they were hatching.

The right hon. Gentleman told the House on Second Reading that he made up his mind about this Measure after the General Election. I tell him, frankly, that I do not believe him. I think he was telling an untruth. When he says that the Government did not have a Measure of this sort in mind before the General Election, I do not believe him. We know very well from speeches made by hon. Members opposite here and in the country that attacks on housing subsidies have been in the minds of the Conservatives for the last three or four years. Therefore, when the right hon. Gentleman tries to pretend that at the last General Election the Conservatives did not state their intentions to the electorate because they did not have such intentions, we just do not believe it.

We know very well that at the last General Election the Conservative Party put no policy before the country in this respect or any other. All hon. Members opposite said was "We have done very well so far. Send us back, and we will keep on doing it." They have kept on doing it. They went to the country without a mandate to do any other than they had been doing. Parliament resumed un-refreshed, unrenovated and as lethargic as it had been before the General Election. However, having won their majority, hon. Gentlemen opposite then proceeded to use it to do other things which they had concealed from the electorate. Having done so, they do not even bother to attend the Chamber. They do not bother to listen to the arguments. Having won a majority by sleight of hand, they do not even worry their heads about working out the matter. And then they begin to wonder why it is that in this financial and economic crisis there are strikes all over the country.

Have hon. Members not yet come to realise that when they undermine the stature and authority of Parliament people outside try to redress wrongs in their own way? Do they think that there is no connection whatsoever between the present wave of industrial unrest and the cynical deception of which they have been guilty? Do they imagine that those circumstances have nothing to do with the fact that industry after industry is deeply disturbed with strikes, on or pending, and with wage negotiations of the most massive kind involving hundreds of millions of pounds? Yet the Cabinet proposes to Parliament a Measure whose effect is to raise rents all round.

What do they think industrial organisations will do? I want to know from the Minister whether he really believes that at the end of this Measure he will have saved a brass farthing. If it is a fact that the present Measure is intended, as the Parliamentary Secretary said it was, to raise rents to the point where it would pay private enterprise to build houses for rent—[HON. MEMBERS: "Quote."] The Parliamentary Secretary has been promoted——