Orders of the Day — Labour Party (Election Pledges)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 29th July 1965.

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Photo of Mr Anthony Crosland Mr Anthony Crosland , Grimsby 12:00 am, 29th July 1965

I must congratulate the right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod) on an amusing, trivial, lighthearted and characteristic after dinner speech. It could hardly be described as a serious contribution to our political life. But no doubt he is delighted at having finally broken the "magic circle".

The right hon. Gentleman's speech hardly accorded with the kind of predictions made in the Press about the result of the election of the right hon. Member for Bexley (Mr. Heath) as Leader of the Opposition. I read in the Daily Express that one hon. Member opposite had said that now that the right hon. Member for Bexley had been elected there would be blood on the Dispatch Box. The only blood on the Dispatch Box tonight will have come from the knuckles of the right hon. Member for Enfield, West as he was laughing at his own jokes.

Of course, the fact is that the speech of the right hon. Gentleman is typical of the kind of style that we are to have in this new period of opposition under the right hon. Member for Bexley. It is a combination of synthetic rage, of amusing Spectator jokes, of a total lack of any constructive criticism, and a marked degree of irresponsibility about the country's economic situation. I am certain that this kind of speech—full of synthetic anger, as I have said, and devoid of any content—is typical of the sort of sound and fury and huffing and puffing we are to have under the leadership of the right hon. Member for Bexley. Having said that, perhaps I might be allowed to congratulate the right hon. Member for Bexley on his election.

The Motion is an excellent example. It purports to be serious and angry, but in fact it is totally frivolous. It appears to imply that the Government are under an obligation to carry out an entire five-year programme in a single year. It appears to imply that in one single year the Labour Party is to correct all the sins and omissions of the last 13 years.

It can hardly be seriously maintained that a pledge is broken if it is not carried out in the first year of what will be a five-year Government. [HON. MEMBERS: "The Queen's Speech."] I am coming to that. I shall deal with every one of the major points raised by the hon. Member for Enfield, West.

The position was made clear in the Labour Party Manifesto. It said: Drastic reforms are now needed in our major social services. To make them fit for the 1960s and 1970s will be costly. … This will not be achieved all at once; There is an even more striking statement which shows that someone had a sense of what was on foot. We do not delude ourselves that the tasks ahead will be easy to accomplish. Even now we do not know the full extent of the damage we shall have to repair after thirteen wasted years of Conservative governmnet. Indeed, we did not know all the damage, and I shall come to the Queen's Speech, which is highly relevant to this. It is well that we should look at the facts of the situation of last autumn, when the Conservative Government—and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer strongly criticised them at the time—were continuing and were committed to a dangerous spree which my right hon. Friend rightly said would outrun the resources available to us. Despite this fact, Tory Ministers, who must have known that the economic crisis was getting worse and worse, indulged in these promises, including, for example, in the Tory manifesto the promise to build or rebuild 300 hospitals.

Despite the fact that they must have known that the economic crisis was developing more and more seriously throughout the year, they did nothing to warn the country or their own supporters of how serious matters were. The right hon. Gentleman managed to make a speech on this topic without even referring to this—[HON. MEMBERS: "Queen's Speech."]—and this is relevant to the Queen's Speech.

It is perfectly true that right hon. Gentleman published the figures in September, but let us see what effect this had. The Tory Party Manifesto, published in September, contained not one hint of the balance of payments deficit. Speeches made by right hon. Gentlemen after the figures had been published contained no hint of how serious the situation was. The present Leader of the Opposition rebuked my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on 6th October saying that he was giving a disgraceful distortion of the facts of the then situation. In fact he was grossly underestimating them.

In the course of saying: It is said of me that I am in disagreement with Mr. Maudling. This is quite untrue. I forget what that was about.

The right hon. and learned Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) said: I made no suggestion that there is now a crisis" in our economic situation. Typically the best and most accurate of all came from the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg), who in October, after the publication of the September figures, said: There is little doubt that they are all getting a bit wild. These reckless accusations and absolutely fatuous statements show every sign that they are getting rattled". He went on: Only today you observed the detestable glee with which he"— now the Prime Ministertried to make out that Britain was on the verge of an economic crisis. Well, is it true?" Only to the extent of the deficit of £800 million.