Actions of Her Majesty's Government

Part of Bills Presented – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 2nd February 1965.

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Photo of Sir Alec Douglas-Home Sir Alec Douglas-Home , Kinross and West Perthshire 12:00 am, 2nd February 1965

I beg to move, That this House deplores the hasty and ill-considered actions of Her Majesty's Government during their first hundred days of office and has no confidence in their ability to conduct the nation's affairs. The best epitaph on the 100 days of Socialist Government so far is the arrival in the House today, by popular vote, of my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton, (Mr. Buxton), and, I must add in fairness, the arrival yesterday of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Cousins).

I am, glad to see the right hon. Gentleman in his place at last, for what we feel will be the short time available to him in the House, and I hope that he will not take it amiss if, during the next few weeks, we press him to justify his existence as a Minister and the existence of his Ministry. I must say to him that we do not so far know very much what it is about.

When I spoke to the House at the opening of this Session of Parliament, in the debate on the Address, I expressed my misgivings as to the prospects for the country under applied Socialism. The First Secretary of State had said, "Let us get in and you will all be mightily surprised by Christmas" The Prime Minister had acclaimed in advance the virtues of the 100 dynamic days. The mood of the country, having elected the Socialists, was to give the Government a fair trial and, in this atmosphere of general euphoria, we gave the Government on every possible occasion the benefit of the doubt, even to the point of being severely criticised for doing so by many of our supporters.

Now we have had the surprises—and more than enough of them, if I may say so. The dynamism about which the Prime Minister spoke has been the dynamism of the bull in the china shop. The pronouncements of the Government and their methods of proceeding have made confusion worse confounded, though I must now announce that the honeymoon is over, and for the best of all possible reasons—that the promises have proved false and the solemn vows undertaken at the General Election have been dishonoured.

That the Government are at odds with the people seems to be dawning on hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite. I notice that a committee of Ministers has been set up, with the Prime Minister in the chair, to keep the Prime Minister and his colleagues in touch with the people—a very comic conception, I must say. I will, if I may, suggest an agenda for the first meeting. On the left-hand side would be the statements made by right hon. Gentlemen opposite at the General Election. On the right-hand side would be the facts after the 100 days. It would read something like this:

"Let's Go With Labour"—7 per cent. Bank Rate and credit restrictions.

"The World wants it and welcomes it"—The surcharge.

"The British people want it, deserve it and urgently need it"—The petrol tax and the Income Tax.

"We will mobilise the resources of technology under a national plan"—The Concord and the aircraft industry.

"Labour is ready poised to swing their plans into instant operation"—The higher interest rates for the house buyer.

That would be an agenda which the Prime Minister might well study. It is a record of sterility and incompetence that can scarcely ever have been paralleled in the early days of a Government. There is now so much on the debit side of the Government balance sheet that I must begin the count-down on the Government now.

My first count against them is closely related to the Amendment which they have put on the Order Paper, and I intend to treat that Amendment seriously, as well as the argument in it. They, in their Amendment, say that they inherited a crisis. We say, and this is now capable of proof, that the crisis was created by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] The Prime Minister will answer this charge and speak to his Amendment, so I hope that hon. Members opposite will listen to the argument on the other side. We say that this is capable of proof.

The export trend of the last three months, the record export figures for December and the renewed increase in production fulfil exactly the forecasts made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Barnet (Mr. Maudling) throughout the summer to the House. What is more, they fulfil exactly the account of the economy and progress that the country was likely to make which he gave to the Commonwealth Finance Ministers in September and to the International Bank. There was no suggestion at either of those meetings that there was, or was likely to be, any crisis involving the value of the £.

It was recognised, of course, that there was the problem of increasing exports from this country. [HON. MEMBERS: "Ah."] If hon. Gentlemen opposite will allow me to continue this sentence I think that they will not disagree with what I am saying. There was the problem of increasing exports to rectify a balance of payments deficit, and it was serious. But there was not a crisis and no suggestion of a crisis involving the value of the £ sterling.

There was no crisis, I would remind the Prime Minister, on the rundown to the General Election, nor during it, although it was a very testing time, nor after it, even though right hon. Gentlemen opposite, for what they conceived to be political advantage, on every occasion bandied about the figure of the assessed deficit of £800 million. There was no crisis, even then. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I have no doubt that the Prime Minister and his hon. Friends will listen to what I am saying, because the Prime Minister admitted all this as late as 23rd November, and I will quote what he said to the House.

The right hon. Gentleman said: … so far as the trade gap is concerned … there were reserves and borrowings more than adequate to meet this, but in the course of the past week"— that was the week preceding 23rd November— there has been this new development arising from confidence factors …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd November, 1964; Vol. 702, c. 933.] In saying that it was a new development the Prime Minister was right, because if he will consult the records of the movement of foreign exchange at that time he will see that it is quite apparent that the real crisis involving the value of the £ dated from the time when people overseas got the double shock of the method which led to the surcharge fiasco and the Chancellor of the Exchequer's Budget, which was irrelevant to the problems of the time.

However, everyone knew that Britain had to get through a particularly difficult period in 1964, in particular the last months of 1964. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] I should have thought that hon. Members opposite would know why, for 1964—I would inform the vociferous hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence), in particular—was a year in which industry was restocking so that it could surge forward in a new expansion in the latter part of 1964 and the early part of 1965. In fact, this is what is happening now, because hon. Members opposite will have seen the trend for exports and the increase in the production figures. They will not deny it, I hope, because it is happening. What the situation demanded in the autumn of 1964 was calm, financial skill and confidence, and those are three skills singularly lacking in the Socialist Government. Instead, we had panic measures.

The trouble was that right hon. and hon. Members opposite were hypnotised by their own political propaganda and could not resist the temptation of giving hysterical and exaggerated accounts of Britain's problems. They could hardly complain, particularly after the notorious performance of Her Majesty's Ministers at the E.F.T.A. meeting, if foreigners took fright. If we got through the crisis of confidence, it was not because of the Government's actions but in spite of them.

It was in spite of a Socialist Government's actions and the breach of treaties that they involved, and the distrust they showed of friends and allies by failure to have any consultations with them whatever, that the international bankers—a fine stroke of irony for the party opposite—believed in the integrity of Britain, because they had always experienced it and had faith in the fundamental strength and future buoyancy of the British economy.

If the export situation now is really improving—and I believe and hope that it is—that is good, but the improvement is due to export orders placed long ago, and when the right hon. Gentleman got as near as he did, on a television programme last night, to saying that the improvements we note now in the economy are due to actions taken by the Socialist Government, he really stretched credulity to breaking point.

If the advice of my right hon. Friends and the Conservative Government had been taken in the autumn there would have been no crisis involving the value of the £ sterling; so my first count against the Government is that they shook confidence in Britain—an unforgiveable thing for a British Government to do. The Government's Amendment is the last fling of misrepresentation. Nobody is any longer deceived.

My second count is that it is the people who will pay a very heavy bill as a consequence of the Government's hasty action. It is a direct consequence of Government action because, against everything that the Prime Minister and his right hon. Friends ever said in the past, or any Socialist on those benches so far as I know, they have now slammed on the brakes. It was on this aspect of our affairs that the Prime Minister and his right hon. Friends were most specific in their pledges.

On 26th October, the Government said that they rejected any policy based on a return to stop-go economics. Three times the Prime Minister said that the Bank Rate would not be raised. On numberless occasions, he and his right hon. Friends poured scorn on the credit squeeze. There is now one operating. How many electors, attracted by the slogan "Let's Go With Labour", thought that in a few months they would be up against that? I can only say that the Government have done all these things that were solemnly pledged not to do, and if there is any rectitude left in them, they should go—