Amendment of the Law

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 3rd May 1966.

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Photo of Mr Roland Moyle Mr Roland Moyle , Lewisham North 12:00 am, 3rd May 1966

I thank you for calling me, Mr. Steele, and for allowing me to undergo the ordeal of making my maiden speech. I crave the indulgence of the House and I am well aware that any ordeal which I may be undergoing will no doubt be fully reciprocated by those hon. Members who remain to listen to me. In the circumstances, the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) will appreciate that I cannot comment on his arguments.

I represent the constituency of Lewisham, North, succeeding Mr. Christopher Chataway who represented it in the last Parliament, a gentleman who made his name before he entered the House in a way which appealed to many people. He also made his name in the House among other things for his support for a number of liberal causes and his hon. and right hon. Friends on both sides may rest assured that his torch will not fall to the ground as a result of his departure and that I am only too ready to pick it up and carry it forward as best I can.

Lewisham is a tadpole-shaped wedge thrust into the south-east London suburbs and pre-eminently an area where Londoners rest from one bout of commuting to gird their loins in preparation for the next. It is a dormitory area and as such is primarily interested, among many other problems, in housing. Because of that, I welcome the announcement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that he is to go ahead with the betting tax, because that tax was originally tied up with a scheme for reducing rates of interest on house purchase mortgages. The tax will be welcomed widely by many of my constituents and those who hope to move into the constituency.

I hope, too, that some of the benefits of the taxation which my right hon. Friend intends to raise will rapidly find their way into the council housing accounts of authorities throughout the country, particularly Lewisham Borough Council, for we have a number of council tenants in the constituency who will welcome the promised increased council house subsidies. We find these people eminently desirable citizens and we hope to welcome a great number more within the next few years.

It is also an area where the benefits of the Rent Act, 1964, are beginning to spread and where appreciation of its benefits is spreading even more rapidly. However, there is one reform which will be welcomed by a number of my constituents and which does not require any taxation to effect. That is the project to carry out a measure of leasehold reform. Such a reform would help to alleviate a heavy anxiety in the minds of many of my constituents and to relieve them from a sharp sense of injustice, which I can readily appreciate in view of the principles which have informed our society over the last 10 or 15 years.

One of the areas of distinction in the constituency is Blackheath, an area of gracious charm with many Regency buildings and with a high standard of amenities which the inhabitants are determined to preserve and foster. I share their determination and I will assist them to carry out that laudable objective to the best of my ability throughout my service in Parliament. It is the area in the constituency which gives one the greatest sense of history. To one of my cast of mind, the greatest claim to historical fame would be the fact that Wat Tyler and his peasants camped on Blackheath the night before they took London. It gives me some feeling of satisfaction to think that I, too, camped in Blackheath the night before we took North Lewisham, although enjoying somewhat more substantial accommodation than Wat Tyler, with the last 900 years of a 999-year lease and with a mortgage which will take another 17 years to pay off.

But to get from North Lewisham to Westminster one has to travel, and there is the rub. I cannot help feeling that Wat Tyler in his progress along the line of the Southern Region Railway to London Bridge and Cannon Street enjoyed a considerably easier time than many of his present-day successors, for at least he knew that if he steadily progressed in a westerly direction he would get there. It is the view of most of my constituents that public transport has deteriorated, is deteriorating and, unless something very drastic is done, they have a shrewd suspicion that it will continue to deteriorate. I should like to say more about that on another day.

The fact remains that just as unemployment was the major social problem between the wars and housing the major problem since the war, in the years to come transport, and particularly the accommodation of the internal combustion engine to our urban way of living, will be the major social problem.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer has obviously devoted a great deal of his attempt at getting the economy on the right lines to relying on increased industrial efficiency. He is right to do so, for industry obviously has the major contribution to make. In this respect, I am put in mind of the advice which I gave to a number of constituents who during the election asked me what they could do as ordinary individuals to help to solve the country's economic problems, what they could do to put their backs into the job and to get us in the position which we hope to reach. I said, "If management comes forward with proposals for reorganising the work and increasing efficiency, do not turn them down, but try to find out what sort of cut they are prepared to offer you; have a jolly good bargain with management and, finally, when agreement is reached, stick to it and work it in the intended spirit until the time comes to have another go at it".

It is very easy to make generally acceptable statements about industrial relations. I have had 10 years' experience of applying them in industry. The trouble—the real fun if I may say so—comes in trying to apply those generally acceptable statements to the prevailing conditions in industry. If the people in this country can get into the habit, not of saying "No", to proposals for change, but "How much?", we shall begin to generate a dynamic in this country which will take us a long way towards the solution of our economic problems.

Those things are now called productivity bargains. We have heard a great deal about them in the last year or two, and I am glad that the Prices and Incomes Board has nailed this standard to its mast. However, a word of warning is appropriate. These productivity bargains are usually advocated as methods by which the British worker is induced to slough off his restrictive practices, accepting increases which are larger than usual in return for selling work practices to the management. In my experience of productivity bargaining—and I have been associated with two of the largest productivity bargains in British industry in terms of numbers in the last two years—the strains placed on management and the upheaval on management structure are far greater than those placed on the employees.

What is the essence of a productivity bargain? It is that the management pays money in order to get more room to manage. If it is to achieve anything as a result of such an agreement, it has to have the technical expertise to take advantage of the freedom of manoeuvre granted to it. It is my fear that these productivity bargains will be used in and out of season throughout the country when many managements are not in a position to be able to exploit the opportunities which the trade unions give them. That is the one word of warning which I have to say at this stage on the subject of productivity bargains as a counteraction to the wild enthusiasm with which they have been greeted throughout the country.

I hope that I have not exhausted the indulgence of the House on this occasion and I thank all hon. Members who are present for having listened to me.