Industrial and Economic Situation

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 6th February 1974.

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Photo of Mr Ralph Howell Mr Ralph Howell , North Norfolk 12:00 am, 6th February 1974

The whole House will have been impressed by the sincerity of the speech of the hon. Member for Durham (Mr. Mark Hughes) even if all hon. Members cannot agree with all that he has said. I agree with much that he said. Whatever happens now, the events of the past three months will be damaging to everyone in the country. The longer the confrontation goes on the more damaging will its effects be.

When the history of this period is written we shall look back in amazement to see how the high standard of living achieved in the past three years—the best standard of life we have ever had—was recklessly thrown away by this self-inflicted injury. I am particularly concerned with the damage it will do to the elderly, the retired and the low-paid workers. I represent a constituency with one of the highest percentages of elderly people. In addition, our agricultural workers are low down in the wages scale. When they accepted their award under phase 3 no protest was raised anywhere in the House.

I am particularly concerned with those pensioners who have tried to save to achieve a better standard of living than they would have had if they had relied solely upon their pensions. All our efforts to contain inflation have been directed towards helping such people maintain the standard of living for which they have worked and saved.

What is all this confrontation about? It has little to do with miners. I have listened to debate after debate in which we discussed the merits of miners' wages, their conditions of work, their health hazards, and so on. We have been missing the point for a long time.

I want to raise two matters. First, it is an odd society which can be brought to a three-day working week merely because 3 per cent. of the work-force decides not to work overtime. That is something which needs correcting rapidly. I believe that the miners have merely been pawns in this power game. It is no coincidence that the power workers, the railwaymen and the miners had their industrial actions simultaneously in the middle of winter, especially when the nation was confronted with the oil crisis. At the worst possible time these three industrial disputes were phased in to cause the maximum disruption.

I am convinced that this was carefully engineered, phased and planned, and that the miners have been merely thrown into the battle, largely against their wishes—because only a few months ago they voted for no industrial action. Yet, under phase 3, with the best offer of any group of workers, they are suddenly whipped into this confrontation.

This problem [Interruption.]—I shall attempt to develop my argument if hon. Members will give me the chance—is largely to do with Communists, anarchists and Maoists who are determined to wrest power from the House of Commons. It is of as much consequence to Opposition hon. Members as to we on the Government benches. Many Opposition Members are deeply concerned at what is happening. A small group of people are determined to wreck democratic government—not just to bring down this Government but to make it impossible for any democratic Government to govern. It is time that the Prime Minister drew attention to these people, identified them and spotlighted their numbers.

I do not believe that there are Reds under every bed, by any means. [Interruption.] Yes, there are one or two Reds on the benches. The creed, and the record, of the Communist Party is alien to this country. In 1966, 62,000 voters voted Communist; in 1970, only 37,000 voted Communist, which means that the Communists are getting nowhere by the ballot box but are, nevertheless, determined to gain power by other means. If one works out that voting strength, it means that only one in 800 voters voted Communist. Yet if one examines the amount of power that Communists wield on the executives of the country's 12 major unions it will be seen that one in eight are Communist, which gives an idea of the degree of power that they have gained in recent years.