HC Deb 27 June 1944 vol 401 cc690-6
Commander King-Hall (Ormskirk)

I ought to say at the outset that I am raising a subject which is in no way connected with the one we have just been discussing. I am only raising it to-day because I feel deeply on this matter. I have given no notice to the Government of my intention, for a very good reason. There is only one Minister who could give me a satisfactory reply, and he is the Prime Minister, and I certainly do not expect him to be here to deal with the matter. For your encouragement, Sir, and that of any other hon. Members who may think fit to listen to me, I will be brief. I was reading an account of the House the other day and I noticed that one of your distinguished predecessors in one stage in a Debate flung himself back in the Chair, and said in a loud voice, "I can bear this no longer." I will endeavour not to get you into that frame of mind. One likes to have a full House when one makes a speech, not that I should ever aspire to that at the present stage of my political career, but I would remind hon. Members that HANSARD is now read by 5,000 who pay for it. Lest Members should think that that is an encouragement to them to make long speeches, I am bound to say that I think it is rarely necessary for a Member to speak for more than a quarter of an hour and that a speech of more than that time makes dull reading in HANSARD. When one raises within the Rules of Order a matter upon which one feels strongly, one need not apologise for doing one's duty in raising it on the Floor of the House.

The subject to which I desire to draw the attention of the House and about which I hope to arouse discussion in the country is what I call the political implications behind the Government's recent White Paper on Employment Policy. In the three days' Debate we had on that matter, three or four Members cruised up to that delicate matter, had a look at it, and then put their tails between their legs and scuttled off. Nobody tackled it in a definite concrete manner, and none of the Ministers who took part ventured anywere near to what I must suppose to be a forbidden subject. It is necessary that I should quote three remarks on the White Paper. The first is from the Foreword, which says: The success of the policy outlined in this paper will ultimately depend on the understanding and support of the community as a whole. The second is in paragraph 16 (b): The Government if supported by the cooperation of all sections of the Government, will do certain things. Finally, in the last paragraph but one, we have these words: The Government of the day must be able to rely on the support and co-operation of the public in applying the principles of an agreed national policy. If these words mean anything, and if the White Paper is meant to mean anything, they mean that a high degree of national unity—there are other references to the obvious necessity of as much co-operation as possible between capital and labour—is essential to the success of the policy in the White Paper. If the White Paper is not meant to mean anything, as was suggested in the extremely amusing but highly mischievous speech of my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams), we need not bother any more about it. I apologise to my hon. Friend for not giving him notice that I was going to say this about his speech, but I did not know that I should get this opportunity. I may as well be hanged for a sheep as for a lamb and say something more about it. It was not only very mischievous, but an inaccurate speech. He had the effrontery to support some criticism of the New Deal in America by saying that after a certain number of years the unemployment figures in America were 7,000,000. He did not mention what the unemployment figure was before the New Deal started, and he did not inform the House that the Americans themselves never pretended to know what their unemployment figures were. I was in the U.S.A. between the relevant dates. They had no real material for finding out what their figures were. They were guesses to within 2,000,000. To base one's arguments on alleged unemployment figures in America reveals an ignorance of the state of affairs over there.

If the White Paper is not meant to mean anything and is a piece of ballyhoo, we need not concern ourselves with the political implications behind it. But I am sufficiently naive to think that it does mean a great deal, and I believe that many people in this House and a lot of people in the country think that it means a great deal. I find myself in agreement with the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg), who regarded it as a very important State paper. If a serious attempt is made to carry out the policy in the White Paper it will be regarded as one of the great State documents of our- time and possibly a turning point in our history. I fully support the idea that every effort should be made to carry out the policy outlined therein. If that is so, it undoubtedly raises very difficult political problems. It is no good people who support the White Paper trying to close their eyes to the difficulties of the political problems involved. The White Paper is necessarily a compromise. Members of the Labour Party who give it a general blessing would like it to go further in some directions, but some Members of the Conservative Party who give it general support indicate that it goes a little further than they would like it to go in some directions. We have to have a compromise of that kind. To a great many people of this country that seems common sense. They say, of course, that we have to have a compromise, as we had to have in getting the National Government for the conduct of the war.

I put this to you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker: Suppose a state of affairs in which a War Cabinet, which will presumably meet in the morning with a long agenda in front of it, with the war with Japan perhaps still going on and a confused state of affairs in Europe; whilst on the domestic side they will have the beginning of success with the legislation they are going to put through in the next year or two or during the length of time that is left between now and the Election. They will have a record of achievement starting with the Education Bill, in which nothing could be more remarkable than the co-operation that existed between the Parliamentary Secretary and the Minister, so much so that the hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Parker), who is the Secretary of the Fabian Society in private life, expressed his alarm and horror at the possible implications of a co-operation of such a fruitful character between people of opposite political parties.

There will be this Cabinet with this series of great problems in front of them. Their achievements will be, we hope, the winning of military victory in Europe and a certain measure of success in their domestic legislation. Can we really imagine a state of affairs in which they will then go out for a General Election, take their hats off the hat pegs in Downing Street and go on to political platforms and start abusing each other, or criticising each other in election speeches? I find it very hard to see how that course of events is going to come about. It would almost appear to be ridiculous, in the eyes of many people.

Mr. Beverley Baxter (Wood Green)

Is the hon. and gallant Member welcoming the end of party Government and the perpetual rule of the Coalition? In that case, if it means anything, it means the end of Parliament as we have known it in the past. We have had Coalition Governments since 1931, and perpetual compromise, yet here is the hon. and gallant Member welcoming still further compromise. If so, I think it is terrible.

Commander King-Hall

I agree with the hon. Member and I did not expect him to understand anything else. As to his generalisation about the continuation of Coalition Government for another five years after the conclusion of hostilities meaning the end of Parliamentary government, that in my opinion is complete nonsense. If my hon. Friend would take the trouble to read the minutes of evidence given before the Committee which sat in 1931 under the presidency of the present Chancellor of the Duchy to look into the question of Parliamentary procedure, he would see the very interesting questions that were addressed to some witnesses, on these lines: "You are suggesting that we are now in what is a very temporary period of coalition Government and that it cannot last very long?" One of these witnesses replied that he would make so bold as to say that it would last as long as the lifetime of any man in that room. In 1931 that seemed a rather bold thing to say. Nevertheless, it has lasted for 13 years.

It may be argued by some people that if there had not been a Coalition Government the war would never have started, and that is arguable. I am prepared to say, and I said it in 1937 before I came into this House, that we then had an international crisis of such a character that my great regret has been that it was not possible to bring about a Coalition Government with the Labour Party before 1940. Had we done so in 1937, with the present Prime Minister, we might possibly have averted the war. I do not see that the time has come when we can safely go back to the party dogfights across the Floor of this House.

Mr. Baxter

At what point after the war does the hon. and gallant Member visualise such a peaceful world as will enable us to do without a Coalition?

Commander King-Hall

My hon. Friend seems to want party Government for the sake of party Government, rather than to look at problems in the light of what is in the best interests of the country. I am not prepared to stand up at the present time and profess to be a prophet or to tell my hon. Friend exactly when the state of the world will be such that he can, without risk of injury to the country, indulge himself in political antics for the sake of doing so. I am only prepared to say that, as far as I can foresee, the state of affairs for at least five years from the present day is likely to remain such as to make it desirable to have a Government supported on as wide a platform of political views as is possible.

Mr. Woodburn (Stirling and Clackmannan, Eastern)

There are two questions involved. The first of them is that my hon. and gallant Friend is arguing in favour of a Coalition Government, which is a matter of opinion. But there is also the question of the composition of the Rouse of Commons. Should that be perpetuated, or are the electors to have an opportunity of electing a House of a different composition, if they so desire?

Commander King-Hall

I am coming to that point. I apologise, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, if I am going slightly beyond my time, but I have been interrupted once or twice. I wish to make one or two rather important points before I sit down. One was raised by my hon. Friend who has just spoken and another was raised by the hon. Member for Wood Green (Mr. Baxter). Of course it can be argued theoretically, and would have been so argued in pre-war days, that if you have a Coalition Government you will not get that strong criticism of the Executive which I believe all hon. Members will agree is an absolute necessity to Parliamentary government in a democracy That is one of the points. I believe it has been proved even during the last two or three hours, that there can be a considerable amount of criticism of the Executive under a Coalition Government, and if British political life develops, as I rather think it will, we shall get better criticism of the Executive. Among other consequences I believe that the status of the back bench Member of the House of Commons will be improved, and that the back bencher will no longer be so dependent upon and perhaps so frightened of the Whips, as one might say, as he has been in the past.

I hope it will not be thought that I want to run away from the political implications, which are very wide and big, if I do not go into this matter at great length to-day. My hon. Friend has just asked me a very reasonable question as to my opinion of the composition of the House of Commons. It is not my business to tell the Government how to run the next General Election, but in case there should be any doubt about it I have a suggestion to offer them. I suggest that the proper thing is for the Government, at the appropriate moment, to come out with a short programme, say of 10 points, or something of that kind— —

Mr. Baxter

Or 14.

Commander King-Hall

Ten would be quite enough. They could invite electors to return to the House of Commons men and women who broadly supported that point of view. I would have a free choice for electors in the constituencies to choose; possibly a gentleman who had been the Labour candidate and who might now say that he supported the 10 points so far as they went, though he would think they did not go far enough; or an independent candidate who would say that the 10 points were good enough for him; or a Conservative candidate who might say that though the 10 points were ideal we might have to wait a long time before bringing many of them about. I believe that much more attention would then be paid in the constituencies to the character of the candidate, which is a very important point. I have tried to answer the points put by my hon. Friend briefly. If he cares to see me in another place I shall be glad to show him a complete scheme for working an election. I will say in conclusion that that really is the Government's business, but that they will fail in their duty to the country if they do not face the problems which are in front of them. The question is, Are they, or are they not, going to go on as a Government? If there is a cat in the bag, they had better let it out. If there is not one, they had better sit down and have some kittens, because the country wants to know what is going to happen.

Question, "That this House do now adjourn," put, and agreed to.