Orders of the Day — Home Affairs

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 28th April 1966.

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Photo of Mr Richard Crossman Mr Richard Crossman , Coventry East 12:00 am, 28th April 1966

Some politicians have the misfortune to say something memorable. Sometimes we win votes by it, and sometimes not. Mr. Macmillan was lucky, because he won votes by this. He won the General Election and came back in triumph to pursue the philosophy which the right hon. Gentleman put to us this afternoon, and he was answered in debate by Aneurin Bevan in, I think, the last speech that he made before he died. That was a speech that I have never forgotten. It is worth reminding ourselves of what Mr. Bevan said about the philosophy of the right hon. Gentleman's approach. What he said was: There is one important problem facing representative Parliamentary government in the whole of the world where it exists … how to reconcile Parliamentary popularity with sound economic planning … how to persuade the people to forgo immediate satisfactions in order to build up the economic resources of the country. … to try to reconcile popular representative government with setting aside sufficient of the national income in order to expand productive resources."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd November, 1959; Vol. 612. c. 862-3.] Mr. Bevan went on to remind the House that there was no evidence in history so far that any people would prove themselves wise and mature enough voluntarily to accept the disciplines necessary to the enlightenment of their freedom.

What Mr. Bevan said six years ago seems to me to be just as relevant today. It is something that we ought to reflect on. I believe that the fundamental reason why we won the last General Election is that the British people rejected our opponents for failing to heed Mr. Bevan's advice, for failing to demand of the British people the voluntary self-discipline which is implicit, for example, in the national incomes and prices policy, to which my right hon. Friend the First Secretary has dedicated himself. If we are not to do that, we have to face the awkward fact that if we cannot get voluntary self-discipline, we are driven back, as the Americans are driven back, to halting inflation by crude injections of unemployment.

I noticed that in his speech in the debate the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) was very careful to say that he entirely rejects the necessity for introducing unemployment other than pure short-term unemployment. That is all that is required; nothing else is required. That was not the philosophy of the Tories during the last thirteen years. Let us recall what they actually did. Let us recall, in the words of the right hon. Gentleman, the actions and not the words. What did they do about curing inflation? They staged three election booms, two successful from their point of view, after which there were long periods of stagnation and no sign whatever, to use the right hon. Gentleman's phrase, of high short-term unemployment to give the economy more flexibility. What they actually achieved was a steady increase of average unemployment and a steady worsening of long-term unemployment, particularly in the neglected areas of the North and West.

If we are looking at actions and not words, let us contrast what they did in using these methods with what we have done. Despite the appalling pressure of the economic crisis, full employment was maintained, but something even better was achieved. While we were grappling with the economic crisis, we also grappled with the regional imbalance which the Tories had allowed to develop. The drift to the South-East has been largely halted. Of the total drop of 29,000 in unemployment in Great Britain between February 1965 and February 1966, as much as 28,000 occurred in the North and North-Western regions and in Scotland. That meant that we were able during that period of overcoming the crisis also to remove the pockets of unemployment in the worst areas where they had remained during the previous thirteen years. If anyone asks what one could single out as a contrast with the action of the Tories, this is something of which we can really be proud.