Debate on the Address

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 29th October 1974.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Edward Heath Mr Edward Heath , Bexley Sidcup 12:00 am, 29th October 1974

It is my privilege to be the first to offer the warmest congratulations of the House to the hon. and learned Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Mr. Weitzman) and the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook) on their admirable speeches. I think that most right hon. and hon. Gentlemen would agree with me that seldom at the opening of Parliament have we had two more enjoyable speeches than those to which we have just listened.

Before I pay further tribute to them I believe that the whole House would want me to offer its sympathy to the Minister for Sport on the dastardly attack made on his wife and family, and to congratulate them on their escape. We in public life know that we face risks and hazards that are not always political, but senseless and cowardly attacks of this kind rouse both horror and anger in the nation, just as did the monstrous bomb attack on the soldiers' club in Northern Ireland yesterday. We would express our deepest sympathy with the relatives of those who lost their lives and wish a speedy recovery to the injured.

This is the price which Her Majesty's Forces pay in the fight against the most ruthless urban guerrilla force which the Western world has yet seen, and it stresses the importance of that paragraph almost at the beginning of the Queen's Speech emphasising the determination and decisiveness of the Government to fight terrorism and lawlessness wherever it may appear in the United Kingdom. In doing that, I can assure the Government that they will have the wholehearted support of the Opposition.

Mr. Speaker, as has already been said, the hon. and learned Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington is one of our most senior Members. He was not only in the House before the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central was born; he was here five years before I came into the House. I have learned since that he has brought to our debates both specialised knowledge and wise advice. The House has always been fortunate in this, and impressed with his moderation.

Today, we have heard his wit, we have sensed his love of London, his pride in the community relations in his constituency and his concern for the welfare of his constituents. All these things shone through his speech. It shows how he has maintained his hold over his constituency as a very worthy Member of Parliament. We thank him for his contributions in the past and congratulate him on his speech today.

The hon. Gentleman the Member for Edinburgh, Central is one of the youngest Members. It is interesting that both mover and seconder today come from the two capitals. The hon. Member for Edinburgh Central joined us in February 1974. It was quite natural that, as chairman of the city housing committee, he should speak of conditions in the city. It is not for me to take exception to any controversial remarks that he may have made, and I do not propose to answer them. I enjoyed the charm and humour of his speech, which I hope will often be repeated in the Chamber so long as he is a Member—and I think again that the whole House will agree with me in paying genuine tribute to the speeches we have just heard.

Both hon. Members have naturally been complimentary about the Queen's Speech. It is quite natural and appropriate that they should be so. Perhaps I may make one introductory remark. Seldom have I read a Queen's Speech in which I found myself asking more often, "What is the precise meaning of this?" Indeed, words seem sometimes to have been used to conceal rather than to explain Government policy. Therefore, we shall listen with particular interest to what the Prime Minister has to say this afternoon, particularly about the meaning of the paragraphs on energy, on education and on defence, to see what the Government's real intentions are. Or do the words in fact conceal differences within the Government?

I shall, if I may, subject the Queen's Speech to a harsher test than that used by the moved and seconder. My test is this: how does it meet the requirements of the country at a time of national crisis? The election was fought by all parties in agreement that we face the gravest crisis since 1945, but on reading the Queen's Speech nobody would feel so. It conveys no impression of determination to deal with the crisis. Indeed, there is an air of unreality about much of it when one considers the conditions in which the election was fought and the condition of the country today.

Apart from a passing reference to the gravity of the economic situation, there is nothing in it to continue to bring home to our people the nature of the problems that we face, nor yet to show that Her Majesty's Government have the determination and will to grapple with them. Indeed, anyone reading the Queen's Speech would see that the reverse is the case; many of the measures proposed are irrelevant to our present situation and action on many of them would be positively damaging.

It is interesting that during the election the Prime Minister often seemed to be in two minds about the way in which to deal with this problem. He talked of the crisis—the grave national crisis. He then blamed his opponents for discussing it in detail because he himself moved on to a promise to the electors of "peace and quiet" were he to be returned to office—without, of course, specifying the price which would have to be paid for the peace and quiet were he to be able to obtain it.

In fact, the right hon. Gentleman really fought on a phrase and a figure: "peace and quiet" and 8·4 per cent. Peace and quiet must have had a very hollow ring for the people of Scotland during these past two or three weeks: transport at a standstill and now a wage settlement which, if accepted, will put up haulage charges by 25 per cent. and will undoubtedly put many firms out of business; garbage piled high in the streets; a million gallons a day of raw sewage being discharged into the Clyde and ruining many years of work which have been done there against pollution.

So, the promise of peace and quiet has already been broken. The rate of inflation was down to 8·4 per cent., said the Chancellor of the Exchequer. "Mr. 8·4 per cent." is how he will go down to history. Given health and strength and the full co-operation of all concerned, he promises to bring it down to 10 per cent. by the end of next year. That is the achievement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. How much he must now regret having produced that bogus figure of 8·4 per cent. It has in fact demolished entirely the credibility of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, for everybody knows that inflation in this crisis is running at a figure nearer 20 per cent.

We are facing a national crisis, and what I ask the Government to do is to produce as fully as possible the facts and the figures and to do so fearlessly, so that the nation can be led to grapple with the problems which we now face.

During the election I emphasised that unity was necessary in order to overcome this crisis—to prevent those who were selfish, wherever they may be, from damaging the rest of the community. What I welcome now is the Prime Minister's conversion to this theme—his conversion, in the ministerial broadcast—[Interruption.] It is quite unnecessary for me to repeat an election speech—the Prime Minister is now repeating mine for me. He appeals for the unity of the whole nation, but the question is this: is the unity which he is asking from the nation a reality or is it just a rhetorical phrase? We can judge this from the Queen's Speech.

The Queen's Speech shows that the Government are not prepared to put on one side, even temporarily, any single divisive aspect of the policies in their manifesto. They are going to pursue the divisive policies of nationalisation of the shipbuilding and aircraft industries, and of oil—if that is what it means—and land; there is to be the intervention of the National Enterprise Board, the amendment of the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—to remove the safeguard on individual rights in trade unions. Let hon. Gentlemen cheer at that—at removing a safeguard of freedom in this country.

It is now clear that in a national crisis the party opposite is not prepared to put on one side any single aspect of its policies which are going to divide the nation. This, of course, puts in doubt the Prime Minister's declared desire to achieve national unity. I must say to him that all the signs are that without national unity this nation will not be able to beat inflation. There is no chance of getting at the roots of home-generated inflation unless we can have national unity to deal with it.

Moreover, the national unity of the United Kingdom will itself be put under strain because of the competition for jobs—the competition for a share of the wealth of the nation. As a result of this strain, we may then see grave divergencies in the different parts of the United Kingdom —and, however important devolution is, it will not be enough to deal with the strains in the United Kingdom brought about by an inflation continuing at the present level.