Orders of the Day — Redeployment

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 24th October 1966.

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Photo of Mr Eric Heffer Mr Eric Heffer , Liverpool, Walton 12:00 am, 24th October 1966

There have been times during this debate when I thought that the House of Commons had entered cloud-cuckoo-land. I say that because I have heard a number of speeches which have gone into the question of training and retraining as if we were discussing seriously the best way to deal with redeployment. The fact is that we are discussing in the context of a very serious economic situation and squeeze, which is leading to the development of high-level unemployment.

When Mr. Victor Feather, Assistant General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress, said that the term "redeployment" in the present context has a very hollow ring, I think that he was speaking the truth and speaking on behalf of all those workers who are at the moment thrown on to the streets.

All my adult life I have been involved in the fight for full employment. I come from Merseyside. That is why I would like briefly to deal with hon. Members opposite. Today, they have got up with their hands on their hearts and they have talked with great crocodile tears streaming down their faces about the serious plight of the motor car workers and the others who are unemployed, as if they had the answer to the problem. Right through the Tory years, both since the war and before the war, areas like Merseyside have continually suffered deep unemployment, but I never expected ever to get up in this House and have to make a speech which concerned itself with the growth of unemployment under a Labour Government.

My criticism of our Government is not that they are pursuing a Socialist policy; it is not that they have Socialist answers to the economic problems; but that they are influenced by and following basically Tory policies. This is my criticism of our Government. Of course, it can rightly be said that we have the Redundancy Payments Act; we have the wage-related unemployment benefits; we also have a certain amount of cushioning in the under-developed areas. This is true. This is good. This is what we fought for and believe in, but we also have the growth in unemployment in these areas.

Let me give some of the facts in relation to this. We have had a lot of talk about the motor car industry today, as though the motor car industry were the only industry with a problem, and as though it were in that industry unemployment is developing. Well, on Merseyside the facts are that the Ford Motor Company is not putting its workers off, and in fact it is talking in terms of taking on 2,000 more workers in the near future. But what do we find? We find that in one month that there has been a growth in unemployment on Merseyside—of 2,911. That means that we have a percentage of our working population unemployed of 2·9 per cent. This has developed in one month because of the policy which, unfortunately, the Government are pursuing at the present moment.

Let me quote what the Chancellor of the Exchequer on 1st March—a very important, very interesting quotation. He said: I preface my remarks by reminding the House that in the early days of the Government's life we had to determine what our general policy should be to overcome the grave deficit in the balance of payments. On previous occasions, and notably in 1961 … the chosen course of the then Government was that of a violent and sudden deflation of the economy. It worked, but at a heavy cost. He went on to say: Clearly, the nation did not elect a new Government in 1964 to return to these old and discredited recipes."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st March, 1966; Vol. 725, c. 1104–5.] That is what the Chancellor of the Exchequer said on 1st March before the General Election.

Let me quote now what I fought the General Election on, because I think the country can remember, and I think the Government ought to be reminded of it. We issued a document, "Time for Decision". What did we say in "Time for Decision"? We said on page 5: But in the pursuit of solvency and the defence of the pound, which were our overriding aims, the new Government was determined not to repeat Conservative Stop-Go. It went on: Whatever the pressures, it would not jettison the four central objectives of its policy". Let me quote No. 3 of the central objectives of the Government's policy. It was: To maintain full employment and a high level of investment in productive industry, while damping down the overheated economy. I and my hon. Friends fought the election on that. I believed in that policy then, and I believe in it now.

I cannot understand why we should be in the position where we adopt basically, though not entirely, the policies with which the Conservative Party at each stage of an economic crisis has attempted to solve the problem. I would not mind if there had not been alternative policies presented, but there were alternative policies. Many times in this House and elsewhere hon. Members have urged the Government to take a different line. We are asking them now to take a different line.

I hope that they are not going to take the advice of The Times, which said on Friday: The fact that the freeze is working should be a source of satisfaction rather than regret—not that anyone wants a state of 'stop' for its own sake, but because the sooner the economy is brought under control the sooner expansion can begin again. It is a source of "satisfaction" that extra workers are now unemployed. I read the report of a recent speech by Mr. O'Brien, who said that we must not shrink from the measures that we have taken and the medicine that we have doled out to ourselves. Those were the terms of his speech. Is he on the dole? Will he suffer unemployment? Is there any possibility that he will have to forgo giving his children Christmas presents? Will he experience the indignity of signing on at an unemployment exchange? Who is doling out what to whom? That is not the way for a Labour Government to advance.

The truth is that, unfortunately, we have been pressurised into this by the bankers. We were told by the Chancellor at the Labour Party conference that to suggest that it was a bankers' ramp was utterly ridiculous. That is what he said on one day. On the following day, we find an interesting article in The Guardian reporting a conversation between William Davis and Mr. Pierre-Paul Schweitzer, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund. Mr. Schweitzer was reported as saying: We never force a policy on anybody. Your Government knows as well and probably much better than we what's good for the United Kingdom. When we put all this money at your disposal, we just agreed with your Government on what was our common view of desirable policies in the United Kingdom. There was no force. They merely agreed after discussions, which means that we were told, "Either you agree, or you do not get the money." That is the situation.