Orders of the Day — The Divided Nation

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 21st January 1974.

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Photo of Mr Winston Churchill Mr Winston Churchill , Stretford 12:00 am, 21st January 1974

I think that one can judge by performance, and the performance of the present Government and the present Prime Minister has been infinitely more beneficial to the men who work in the pits than was that of the Labour Prime Minister.

This debate is not specifically about the miners' case ; it is above all about fairness. We hear much from the Opposition today about the wickedness of the property developers ; how come that Centre Point stood empty for six years and none of this righteous indignation ever bubbled to the surface in the speeches of Labour Members during all those years? In every field today the Opposition seek to hide their lack of policy and their lack of unity with humbug.

The British people, fortunately, are not so facile as the Opposition would have us believe. They resent the way in which the Leader of the Opposition plays politics in a time of national crisis. They remember the showdown that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition sought with the unions while in office. They remember how, when it came to the crunch, he ran away. They recognise that that capitulation by a democratic Government to a sectional interest in large measure has been responsible for the situation in which we now find ourselves.

The British people are fed up with being made the whipping boy of sectional interests which every winter come to burden them with more inconvenience and more threats to the national livelihood and the future of many people. The nation is more united than it ever has been in opposition to these recurrent demands by powerful sectional interests that seek to bludgeon successive Governments, using the public as the whipping boy. The nation is even more united in its determination to prevent those who do that for party political motives.

The present dispute is not by any means solely about pay, or perhaps not even primarily about pay, or even, in the case of the ASLEF dispute, about differentials ; it is about the openly avowed determination of certain members of the NUM leadership—to use their own words—"to smash the Government". I am glad that there are still some members of the Opposition who, as social democrats and constitutionalists in the Labour Party, have the courage to stand up and denounce those who, with no mandate from their union membership, seek to play politics, as certain members of the NUM do.

In past years the Leader of the Opposition has spoken in uncompromising terms of the Communist minority in the ranks of the unions. It is a pity that his voice is so muted today. Perhaps he would be in danger of being accused of statesmanship. It is becoming fashionable in the Press to dismiss such talk—and it is talk that has come before now from the Opposition benches, as well—with the outdated cliché, "Reds under the bed". Indeed it is dated, for one needs to look for them these days in Rolls-Royces hired at £180 a day at the expense of union dues.

The offer to the miners is fair, and moderate trade unionists recognise that stage 3 is fair. That is why more than four million have settled under stage 3 and men like Tom Jackson have made it clear that if the Government's pay policy were to be bulldozed by sectional interests, it would be the smaller unions and individual working people, not to say pensioners and others on fixed incomes, who would suffer.

The Government are making a stand on behalf of the whole community to protect all the people from the ravages of even greater inflation than has been imposed on us by the increase in world prices and to make a stand against the bully boys of the sectional interests that seek to bludgeon the community into submission. The people are looking to the Government to stand firm and, above all, to maintain the constitutional authority of a democratically elected Government.