Debate on the Address

Part of Sessional Orders – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 12th November 1963.

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Photo of Mr Jo Grimond Mr Jo Grimond , Orkney and Shetland 12:00 am, 12th November 1963

I have just mentioned the Newsom Commission. Why did it not stir the Government to do something about schools, for schools are more important than further education? Where is the machinery in Government itself? Why cannot the enthusiasm be generated in the politicians and the facts be provided by the Civil Service? The fact is that we shall never modernise this country unless the Government have a tremendous driving will to do it, and that driving will has to cut through a great many of the existing institutions.

I have a great admiration for the Prime Minister and for many other members of the Government, but they have never shown this desire—or if they have, where is the evidence?—with the exception of the one senior member of the Government who was deprived of the leadership. I think there is evidence that some years ago the Foreign Secretary showed that he appreciated the need for structural changes. Without making personal criticism or any attack whatever, I think it unlikely that the people to whom this has never occurred until a few weeks ago will generate the energy that the job requires.

I also note the absence from the Gracious Speech of any reference to reform of the way in which we do things. The only way the Government move forward is on recommendations of Royal Commissions. I do not believe that we should be satisfied with a form of Government in this country by which progress can be made only when a certain amount of enthusiasm has been whipped up by publication of a Commission's Report.

Let us look at one or two other things which the Prime Minister said. He told us of many things which had been done and were being done. Let us not denigrate what has been done. Much of the country is prosperous. More schools are being built, more houses are being built, more slums are being cleared, and we are glad about that. But when he says that the country needs modernising, implicitly he admits that not nearly enough has been done—and the setting of targets at this stage is not enough, either.

I find it alarming that as we get into the election campaign—and we are already in it—there should be this endless setting of targets, this challenging of other parties of what they would cut, when the House has lost all control over finance and what we are having now is immense financial offers made to the electorate which I think will lead to a gigantic amount of waste. I do not believe that setting targets at this point is enough. It is not enough to say to the people, "Admittedly we have not done what we ought to have done over the last twelve years, but give us another six months and all will be put right."

The Government claim that in the past years many things have been achieved. But we come back to the fundamental point that if the Prime Minister says that the country needs modernising, then he must modernise the machinery by which it runs its affairs. It is an implicit admission that the progress which has been made is insufficient and that all that he can do is to run into the election promising to do all sorts of things without being certain that he has the means to achieve them and without having taken any steps to ensure that within a year or eighteen months we shall not come up against a balance of payments crisis in which the outflow of money will have to be stopped.

There is nothing in the Queen's Speech except promises of more money. The country has already been through this cycle of pouring out more money until the moment comes when everything has to stop. That is the criticism of this debate. Certainly the Prime Minister gave us a much fuller speech than usual, but I cannot say that at the end of it I felt that he had appreciated the true lesson of the last twelve years which is, "You may go occasionally but all too soon you have to stop."