Debate on the Address

Part of Orders of the Day — Queen's Speech – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 1st November 1961.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Fred Blackburn Mr Fred Blackburn , Stalybridge and Hyde 12:00 am, 1st November 1961

I feel something of a fraud in following four such experts on defence, but it may be a slight relief for the House to have a short break and to be able to digest what the experts have said if for a few moments we get away from the detailed intricacies of defence.

I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) covered a wider canvas in the early part of his speech. I appreciate that during this debate any hon. Member is entitled to make any points he wishes; yet most hon. Members would wish to fit in with the decision made by the two Front Benches. I understand, however, that defence was to be the opening subject today, but it was to be counted as one of the days for a general debate on the Address. Therefore, I feel we need have no inhibitions in widening the debate this afternoon.

The Minister of Defence has now got three speeches he must answer in more detail than he did in his speech this afternoon. Possibly he was prevented to some extent because of security, but he did not satisfactorily answer the points made by my right hon. Friend, and since then there have been two other speeches which need an answer. It seemed to me that the Minister's speech followed the all too familiar pattern of so many Government speeches. When the Government find that something is wrong and put forward some suggestion to put it right, as soon as they are attacked their whole effort is concentrated on trying to prove that everything is all right. That was the pattern of the Minister's speech this afternoon. I do not know if he convinced anyone else, but he certainly did not convince me either that the suggestions in the White Paper were necessary or that they were just.

It is most unfortunate for these young men. In the first place, they are unfortunate because their birthdays came at the wrong time and they have had to do two years service. They are again unfortunate in having to do an extra six months. I can see that Members of Parliament will get a greatly increased post in the coming weeks and months. As I have suggested, I am not an expert on defence, but I think the Minister of Defence has a great deal to answer—possibly privately, because I agree that for security reasons many of the points could not be answered publicly.

I often wonder whether the world can be considered as being civilised in this second half of the twentieth century. It is true that we can move rapidly on the surface of the earth, in the air, on the sea and under the sea. We have radio and television. We can put sputniks into orbit, and very soon, no doubt, there will be visits to the moon. But we have not yet learned how to live at peace with each other.

Nobody in the House can be very happy either about the international situation or, indeed, about the domestic economic situation. Of course, the international situation is overshadowed by the senseless and wicked action of the Soviet Union with its more than 20 nuclear explosions culminating in the one of over 50 megatons. This is an action which is not easy to understand. Mr. Khrushchev's explanation that he was carrying out these tests in order to keep up with the Joneses of the West just does not make sense, because, otherwise, all the claims which the Soviet Union has made in the past about its strength are just nonsense. I cannot believe that the tests were necessary from that point of view. It is difficult to understand the reason for the tests unless they were carried out in the hope that they would create terror. But, of course, that would fail.

I am very sorry that the reaction of the West was not different. I am sorry that the West did not say that, in spite of the action of the Soviet Union, it did not intend to have further tests, at least until further efforts had been made to reach an agreement for the banning of all tests. I am sorry that yesterday the Prime Minister did not say quite categorically that we would not carry out any tests, but I do not think that anyone who is not prepared to condemn Russia has the right to condemn the Prime Minister for the action which he is taking. I strongly condemn Russia in this matter, and I only wish, as I say, that the Prime Minister had said that we would not proceed with further tests until we have made greater efforts to secure agreement.

Russia, we know, is contemptuous of world opinion, as was shown by the Hungarian affair. It is a pity that just at the time when we had got the uncommitted nations and the so-called neutral nations supporting us we did not react in the way which I have stated. The position now is that the uncommitted nations are likely to say, "They are all the same. Russia started it and the others are following on". I think that we have been very unfortunate with the uncommitted nations and the so-called neutral nations. We always seem to be giving the impression that we are saying "No" to Russian propaganda. I think that we have failed lamentably. Here was a chance to have the uncommitted nations more behind us.

Russia has been much more clever at propaganda than the West. It is rather strange that we are still looked upon by the uncommitted nations as an imperialist nation, we who have given freedom to over 600 million people since the end of the war and who, in the very near future, will be giving freedom to millions more, whereas Russia, after the war, got part of Finland, part of Poland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and a stranglehold on Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Rumania, Bulgaria and Eastern Germany. Yet in the minds of the uncommitted nations we are the imperialists.

Our propaganda has all along been poor. It has looked as if we were saying "No" to Russian propaganda. I believe that there has been too much "gamesmanship" on both sides. Both sides have been putting forward suggestions knowing that they would not be accepted. Very often they look very good and feasible on the surface, but there is always some little point in them which it is known the other side will not accept.

Coming to Berlin, the Gracious Speech states: My Government will seek …to achieve by negotiation a settlement of the Berlin question … But what are we going to negotiate about? Are we going to negotiate from the position as at the end of the last war, that certain agreements were made and that we stand by those agreements, because, if we are, we are not going to get any nearer at all? Or are we going to recognise facts? It is a fact, whether we like it or not, that East Germany exists, and in the foreseeable future there is absolutely no hope whatever of achieving a united Germany. Therefore, we have to recognise the facts as they are.

East Germany is there. Personally I think that the giving of de facto recognition to East Germany could be used as a bargaining power. I should like to see de facto recognition of East Germany and the whole of Berlin coming under United Nations government with no British, French, American or Russian troops among the United Nations force in Berlin. I speak of Berlin, but when Mr. Khrushchev talks about it he refers to West Berlin. Surely Berlin should not be divided in that way. I believe that if we we're prepared to go into these negotiations recognising the existence of an East Germany which is there, and which we know is a point on which Russia will not yield any more than we should yield on the question of Western Germany, then I think that there is a possibility of removing the greatest danger to world peace at the present time.

I have spoken about Berlin coming into the United Nations, and I want to make just one reference to what the Government have to say about the United Nations. The Gracious Speech states: My Government will continue to give resolute support to the United Nations. But it seems to me that if the United Nations organisation is really to do its job and is really to be an effective force for peace in the world, then it must be given teeth. I do not think that the United Nations can really become an effective force for world peace unless we have a permanent united force whose members are not responsible to any particular country and whose loyalty is owed to the United Nations.

I do not mean that each time a crisis arises in the world, as in the Congo, we should raise another United Nations force. I believe that we should have a United Nations force capable of preserving peace, and I should like to see a British Government giving the lead on that matter as in every effort to make the United Nations a better instrument for preserving world peace. I never believed that the League of Nations failed because it was not equal to its job. I believe that it failed because it was not allowed to do its job. The same danger is arising with the United Nations.

I now come to the section of the Gracious Speech dealing with domestic affairs and the economic crisis at the present time.

In view of the fact that there is an economic crisis, I do not think that anybody can be very thrilled by the wording of the Queen's Speech or think that we are to see a quick solution to the problems which face us. The Gracious Speech talks about "measures already announced". What are the measures already announced except measures which have been tried in the past and have proved to be only temporary palliatives? There is, perhaps, another measure—the pay pause and the breaking of freely-negotiated agreements.

I do not think that it is generally known that Members of Parliament have been concerned in the pay pause. I had every reason to believe that the Government were prepared to make the salaries of Members of Parliament more comparable with those of representatives in other Parliaments and that they were prepared to make the salaries of Ministers comparable with those of their permanent officials, but when an economic crisis occurs, all that falls to the ground. It is difficult enough for Members of Parliament to talk about their own salaries in times of prosperity, and it is impossible for them to do so during economic crises, but if the Government delay long enough in making decisions, there will always come a time when there is an economic crisis and the matter cannot be pursued.

It ought to be said that Members of Parliament are being made to make their contribution. I know that there are some people who think that we are worth nothing. The danger is that they may be right. But as long as they are being paid, I think that hon. Members are entitled to have a salary which means that they are not financially worried—and everybody knows that many hon. Members, particularly those with young children to educate and who are having to meet the heavy London expenses, are in difficulty. I will not go into that, but I think that it ought to be on record that Members of Parliament, too, have been concerned in the pay pause, though we cannot say that they have been concerned in the breaking of agreements.

In view of the action which they have recently taken, it is strange that the Government say that they will continue to seek the co-operation of both sides of industry". I do not know about continuing to seek their co-operation. Perhaps they had better begin to seek it, and then, having begun, they can continue to do so. But the present is not the best atmosphere in which to seek the co-operation of industry when freely-negotiated agreements have been ignored and sometimes rejected by the Government.

I refer next to the proposals to amend the law relating to teachers' salaries. I hoped that when the teachers agreed to the Government's offer of £42 million the Minister would decide not to go ahead with the Bill which he is to introduce, but I gather that it is only postponed until after the New Year, to give time for negotiations. I shall be very much surprised if that Bill is not already in draft. I appeal to the Minister to leave things as they are and not further to antagonise the teaching profession, to have second thoughts about it and to leave the Burnham Committee to function as it has functioned in the past.

May I ask some questions about missing legislation? We deserve an answer from some member of the Government about this, although I do not know that we shall get it. Tomorrow we shall discuss foreign affairs, on Friday we shall discuss education, on Monday we shall discuss housing and on Tuesday we shall discuss economic affairs. Which Minister will tell us what has happened to the Gowers Report? We ought to have an answer. We ought to be given some reason for which the Government are not fulfilling their pledge. Which Minister will tell us what has happened to the Weights and Measures Bill? Even as recently as July the Government went to the trouble of reprinting the Bill, Weights and Measures (No. 2) Bill, and incorporating the Amendments which had been passed by another place. But there is no mention of the Bill in the Queen's Speech. Anyone who has had much to do with local government or anyone in the House who has had much to do with Private Bills appreciates the great importance of the Weights and Measures Bill, quite apart from its importance to the ordinary consumer.

We are entitled to a full explanation of why these two pieces of legislation, at any rate, seem to have disappeared from the scene. What about the House of Lords? I thought that we were to be given some suggestion for the reform of the House of Lords?