1945-08-16 - Clement Attlee
I have had the privilege on many occasions of congratulating the Mover and the Seconder of the Address from the other side, but this is the first time on which I do so from the Treasury Bench. I echo what was said by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. All through the years I have been in the House there has been an astonishingly high standard kept in these speeches, and I entirely agree that the hon. and gallant Member for Watford (Major Freeman) and the hon. and gallant Member for Sunderland (Mr. F. J. Willey) have well sustained the old traditions. I think they are two very worthy representatives of the great number of the younger generation who have come into this House to help to solve these problems of the post-war period. I am sure that the Government will bear in mind the advice of the hon. and gallant Member for Watford that it is essential, as anyone who has served in the Forces knows, to let the fighting troops have the facts. There is nothing worse for men, wherever they are fighting or after demobilisation, than not to know the facts. We will try to keep them fully informed.
Yesterday we gave thanks for the final victory over all our enemies, and the world is once more at peace. For the first time for almost six years the Prime Minister can speak in this House without referring to war operations. Later we shall be taking an opportunity of thanking the Fighting Forces, but I think that before I deal with the general policy contained in the Gracious Speech from the Throne and with the speech of my right hon. Friend opposite, which I thought showed him to be in most excellent form, there is a duty which I ought to take the earliest opportunity of performing. It may be that I shall be setting a precedent in doing so, but I have been looking through the speeches of Prime Ministers on these occasions, and I find there are many varieties. The surrender of Japan has brought to an end the greatest war in history, and a General Election, which took place at a time which was not of our seeking, has resulted in the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) being on the Opposition benches at a time when the fruits of his long leadership of the nation in war are being garnered.
I think it is fitting that to-day I should pay a tribute to one of the main architects of our victory. However we may be divided politically in this House I believe I shall be expressing the views of the whole House in making acknowledgment here of the transcendent services rendered by the right hon. Gentleman to this country, to the Commonwealth and Empire, and to the world during his tenure of office as Prime Minister. During those years he was the leader of the country in war. We have seen in Fascist countries a detestable cult of leadership which has only been a cover for dictatorship, but there is a true leadership which means the expression by one man of the soul of a nation, and the translation of the common will into action. In the darkest and most dangerous hour of our history this nation found in my right hon. Friend the man who expressed supremely the courage and determination never to yield which animated all the men and women of this country. In undying phrases he crystallised the unspoken feeling of all. "Words only," it might be said, but words at great moments of history are deeds. We had more than words from the right hon. Gentlemen. He radiated a stream of energy throughout the machinery of Government, indeed throughout the life of the nation. Many others shared in the work of organising and inspiring the nation in its great effort, but he set the pace. He was able to bring into co-operation men of very different political views and to win from them loyal service. At critical times, by his personal relationship with the heads of Allied States, he promoted the harmony and co-operation of all, and in the sphere of strategy his wide experience, grasp of essentials, his willingness to take necessary risks, were of the utmost value.
I had the honour to serve with the right hon. Gentleman in the War Cabinet throughout the whole of the Coalition Government from the days of Dunkirk to the surrender of Germany. There are many things on which we disagree, but I think it right to take this early occasion, before we turn to controversy, to express the gratitude and admiration for his leadership in war which we feel. His place in history is secure, and although he was no longer at the head of affairs when the Japanese surrendered and final victory came, this really was the outcome of plans made long before under his leadership.
History will link with the name of Winston Churchill that of another great leader of democracy, the late President Roosevelt. The one is present with us here to-day; the other did not live to see victory, but his service to the cause of freedom this country can never forget. I should also wish at this hour to acknowledge the great contribution made by all the peoples of the British Commonwealth and Empire to this great victory, by all our Allies, the people of the United States of America, of Russia, of China, and by all others who fought against the common enemy. And perhaps above all I should like to emphasise that victory has come through the contributions of thousands and millions of ordinary men and women. In all the various spheres of activity it has been the steadfastness, courage, and sense of duty of the ordinary citizen that saved civilisation. Speaking to-day in this House, a new House of Commons, I should like to pay a tribute to the House of Commons that has passed away, which sustained and fortified the Government through all the trials of war. Throughout it set an example of democracy in action which I am sure will inspire the new Members. I thought it right to say these things.
I now turn to deal with the Gracious Speech from the Throne, but before doing so there are one or two matters of business which I must mention. It will, I think, be obvious to all that the legislative programme set out in the Gracious Speech is heavy. This House will have plenty of work before it. The Debate on the Address will occupy the remainder of this week, and I hope it will be concluded next week. Under your guidance, Mr. Speaker, we shall endeavour to meet the wishes of the House in regard to the general Debate on the Address as regards the specific subjects which may be desired. We shall bring forward a Motion inviting the House to approve of the Charter of the United Nations signed by fifty nations at San Francisco on 26th June, 1945. There is also certain other business which we desire to pass as a matter of urgency. I hope it will prove non-contentious. There is a Bill to amend the law relating to Local Government Elections, so as to enable Service men who are serving abroad to stand as candidates. There is a Motion to approve Regulations which complete the provision made in the Representation of the People Act. 1945, for proxy voting by Service voters at Local Government Elections. There is also a Motion to continue in force the Proclamation issued under the Government of India Act by the Governor of Bengal.
The Session is beginning at an unusual time. Normally the House would be in recess at this date, and I think, therefore, it might be the wish of the House that we should endeavour to conclude the Debate on the Address and deal with the other matters to which I have referred so as to be able to adjourn on Friday, 24th August. In order that we may achieve that and give more time we propose to meet next Monday and as it will be a special sitting to continue the Debate on the Address, we do not propose to take Questions on that day. I hope this arrangement will be agreeable to the House and I suggest that the general business arrangements might be discussed through the usual channels. We propose to meet after the Recess on Tuesday, 9th October, when the chief work of the Session will begin. I may say that this interval will give the new Ministers an opportunity of familiarising themselves with the work of their Departments and also will allow many new Members who have come to this House to arrange their affairs. In the Autumn we shall ask the House to sit five days a week and, as was the practice before the war, Questions will be taken on the first four days. We have recently been working on a three-day Questions week, and so there will have to be some reorganisation of the order of Questions. That is being revised in consultation with the authorities of the House. It is a matter which, I think, might be discussed through the usual channels.
I have already informed the House that it is the Government's intention to propose a Motion to-day to give precedence to Government Business, to provide for the presentation of Government Bills only, and to stop the ballot for Private Members' Bills. I regret the necessity for this, but we have a very heavy legislative programme, and we must have that if we are to carry out the mandate that we received at the Election and deal with the various Measures included in the post-war reconstruction policy, some of which, as the right hon. Gentleman said, were agreed upon in principle, and perhaps largely in detail, during the period of the Coalition Government. We shall, therefore, require all the available time. I have to ask the House for those facilities and to ask it to return to a five-day Parliamentary week. But although we propose to take Private Members' time, we shall endeavour to provide opportunities for debate on matters of general interest, and we propose in the interests of Private Members to safeguard the half-hour Adjournment at the end of each day when grievances can be raised
During the past few days great events have been taking place. I think that perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will agree that the preparation of the King's Speech, with events moving at the pace they have been, has been somewhat difficult. I thought he rather expected us to have adjusted our statements and plans with regard to demobilisation in the light of the surrender of Japan. I am sure he will realise that the time for that was somewhat short. We have been living through great events, and we have got to realise we are living in a new world. We have seen in action a new force, the result of scientific discovery, the far-reaching consequences of which, I think, we find it difficult to grasp; but I think we can all realise we shall have to make a reevaluation of the whole situation, especially in the sphere of international relations. It is easy to have the habit of looking at things in the light of the past and failing to make readjustment, and I think it is perhaps fitting that we should look at these new problems, or old problems, in a new light, with a new House of Commons in which there is such a large number of young Members, and for the first time in our history with a Labour Government in power supported by a great majority.
Perhaps this would be a convenient point for me to deal with a matter that is still troubling my right hon. Friend opposite, and that is the question of Professor Laski. My right hon. Friend has known Professor Laski for many years, although I am afraid he has not sat under him in the school of political science, but he knows that in common with himself Professor Laski has a somewhat ebullient phraseology and at times is apt to be a little impulsive. He claims for himself, as my right hon. Friend so eloquently claimed just now for all people, the right of individual action, and as a citizen of this country he has the right to express his views. Whether or not he is expressing the views of some particular outside body is another matter; it is a matter between him and any body to which he may belong; but I am glad of the opportunity, if it is necessary at all, to say that Government policy is laid down by Ministers, and therefore any newspaper or any foreign Power or any politician who thinks that the policy of this Government is laid down by anybody but the Labour Ministers is making a great mistake.
The Speech from the Throne sets out the programme and policy which the Labour party believes to be best in the interests of this country and the policy it intends to carry out. Details will be explained more fully by other speakers later in the Debate, but I want to try this afternoon to bring before the House the gravity of the issues which confront us at home and abroad. It is vital to realise that we have come through difficult years and we are going to face difficult years, and to get through them will require no less effort, no less unselfishness and no less hard work, than was needed to bring us through the war. I know this is a hard saying to people who have worked so much and so hard and suffered so much, but it would be entirely wrong not to represent the facts perfectly plainly before the whole people of this country.
I want to say a few words, first of all, on the international situation. Although the war has been brought to an end, it has left behind it a great aftermath of difficult problems, some of which my right hon. Friend referred to in his speech. I do not want to deal at great length with them because I understand one of the days of this Debate will be devoted to foreign affairs, and I would rather that a full statement was made by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary; but no one knows better than the right hon. Gentleman opposite how difficult foreign affairs are to-day and how careful we should be not to give false impressions. Almost the whole of Europe has been ravaged and overset. I am not replying just now to the points that my right hon. Friend put to me with regard to the exchanges of population in central Europe. I would rather have a considered statement made by the Foreign Secretary. But I assure the House that that was one of the matters we considered very carefully at Potsdam, because we all of us wished to avoid some of those terrible things that have been happening over the past few years in Europe.
We were in conference only a few days ago, the Foreign Secretary and myself, with President Truman and Marshal Stalin, and we took up the work that had been done by the right hon. Gentleman opposite. I would like fully to echo what the right hon. Gentleman said about the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) and the services he did at Potsdam. We were there dealing mainly with the immediate problems that have arisen out of the defeat of Germany. We did get agreement on many subjects. Others will be considered, and I hope solved, at the meetings of foreign Ministers, but there are a number of others that must remain over for settlement at the Peace Conference. We have to realise that in all the countries of Europe which have been overrun by Nazi Germany, and in the satellite countries, there are very difficult political problems to be settled. There are many governments to-day in Europe that rest on no sure foundation of popular election. It is really optimistic to expect the political life in those countries to settle down easily, quickly and smoothly. In many of them political life has never been easy and smooth even in the best of times of peace. It is our intention everywhere to help to secure that the will of the people shall prevail. We look forward with hope to the emergence of democratic governments based on free elections to take a part in building up the shattered framework of the European polity. In this task we shall seek to render all the assistance in our power, in co-operation with our Allies, especially with our great Allies, the United States of America and Russia.
But it is necessary to realise that it is not only the political and social life of Europe that has been shattered. The economic situation is very grave. I fear there are many people in Europe who are going to be both cold and hungry this winter despite all that can be done. The reasons are obvious. While the damage done to the industries of the liberated countries has not been as great, I think, as we first feared, the damage to means of communications has been tremendous. Ports, railways, roads and bridges have been destroyed. There is a great shortage of railway rolling stock, a great shortage of lorries, and we have to remember that in countries of advanced industrialisation accustomed to the free movement of supplies from one district to another, there are bound to be local shortages and the general situation will be very difficult. Some of these difficulties are being overcome, but I ought to mention to the House some of the gravest. One is that of coal. All the liberated countries in Western Europe need coal, and without it there is bound to be unemployment. If industry cannot work, railways cannot function, and badly needed food will be lost for want of processing facilities. We must get coal. But it is not easy. Economic difficulties have their repercussions on political stability and all the Governments concerned are doing their utmost to try to improve matters, to try to get an equitable sharing of what there is. We and our Allies are doing our best to increase the production of coal in Germany. There again, time must elapse before we can get anything like back to the pre-war level.
Next in importance to coal is the shortage of transport. Here we will try to do all we can with the release of military vehicles. Thirdly, there is the shortage of food, particularly meat, fats and sugar. It must be realised that there is a world shortage of these due to a number of different causes, and you cannot overtake the shortages, because the food is not there. Owing to the extent of the shipping employed in meeting the needs of the Forces in the Pacific-and it takes time to unravel that-the amounts of raw material that can be moved within Europe and from outside into Europe are very limited. Therefore, these shortages of coal, transport, food and raw materials tend to aggravate each other. We will do our best to help to remedy them, but as the right hon. Gentleman opposite said so well, we have been and still are cut to the bone at home. It is no use thinking this country has some great surplus it can pour into other countries. It cannot. We have cut ourselves very close indeed. While the end of the war with Japan will bring some assistance, it would be unwise to expect it will materially affect the position for some months.
I would like here to make a particular reference about U.N.R.R.A., whose Council is now meeting in London. As the Foreign Secretary has said we stand by U.N.R.R.A. This organisation has had great difficulties, but it is doing work of the greatest value in those countries that are receiving its aid, and we hope that at this Council meeting arrangements can be made which will enable U.N.R.R.A. to complete its work in the countries where it is now operating and also to extend its full facilities to Italy and Austria, which are at present maintained through military channels.
There is the economic condition of Europe. I am not going to speak of conditions outside Europe, but there is a danger in the Eastern countries as well, and it is in the light of these grave world economic conditions that we must view our own situation. Before the House rises for the Autumn Recess, we are to have a Debate on San Francisco. I do not think that the people of this country have realised sufficiently the importance of this conference. It may be because it was held a long way away. I think there is a much more vivid realisation in the United States of what is meant, and yet, surely, its purpose-the prevention of a repetition of the horrors of war-ought to appeal to us all, and, today, I think, in the light of recent events, we can say that the achievement of this purpose is not only desirable but vital for the survival of civilisation. Unless the forces of destruction now set loose in the world are brought under control, it is vain to plan for the future. I do not propose to make any statement at the moment with regard to plans for controlling those forces. The thing is new upon us, but it is quite obvious-and statements made by the President of the United States and myself have, I think, made it clear-that this thing must be controlled in the interests of all the people of the world and not exploited for the interests of only one.
The gracious Speech from the Throne expressed in very few words the policy of the Government in international affairs. As the right hon. Gentleman said, I believe it is a policy on which we can all unite. We sought no advantage for ourselves out of this war. Our desire is to heal the wounds of war, to ensure all peoples the right to live their own lives in peace and security. We want freedom. I entirely agree with what the right hon. Gentleman said about the abomination of police rule and our desire to see freedom, but I equally agree with him when he said that there are limitations on what you can do in interference with the internal affairs of other states. It is our desire that nations should be free and that the citizens of those nations should be free, but the extent of what we can effect may be more limited. We seek to prevent aggression, to promote an increase of prosperity for all peoples throughout the world by peaceful co-operation, and we seek ourselves, as a free democratic people, to live with all nations, respecting the rights of others and claiming no more from others than what we are prepared to concede to them. As I say, we shall have an opportunity of discussing foreign affairs at more length and in more detail.
I now turn to affairs at home, and, here again, I would like to say something on the general economic position that faces us. I do not think anybody is ignorant of the gravity of the problem. During these last six years, we have deliberately transformed our whole economic system for the single purpose of defeating the enemy in battle. The battle has been won, but the result of the means we had to adopt remains. On the one hand, the machinery of our economic life has been diverted from peace to war, and it is true that, since the end of the war with Germany, we have been making some start in the process of reconversion. The right hon. Gentleman said we were in a difficult position with the continuance of the Japanese war, for how long we did not know-a kind of twilight of reconstruction. Well, it is true that we can now move ahead without that war hanging over us, but it does not alter the fact that the transition is very difficult. We were organised as a war machine to fight the Japanese. That has come to an end, thank Heaven, much earlier than any had expected, but it will take time before the effects can be felt.
That brings me to the point that the right hon. Gentleman mentioned about demobilisation. Everybody knows, and nobody better than the right hon. Gentleman, what happens if you do not have orderly demobilisation. We were looking ahead at the time, and we were not talking of demobilisation, but of the reallocation of our forces, and we have stated that we would continue the orderly release of men and women from the Armed Forces, on the basis of the plans announced in the Autumn of last year. Although the actual fighting is over, we have not come to the time of full demobilisation. We have to keep the strength of our Armed Forces at a high level to meet our military commitments. Japan's surrender will not affect our commitments in Europe, and, in the East, we shall still need substantial forces to make our contribution to the occupation of Japan, and the recovery of our Colonial possessions and to help in restoring order.
It would be folly to think that you can at once disband your forces. It was one of the weaknesses of the last war. There were no forces in hand to prevent disturbances all over Europe. Therefore, the problem remains one of orderly reduction from the peak strength of total war, to the lower level of this occupational phase, and it was to meet this particular problem that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, when Minister of Labour, devised the demobilisation scheme which was announced last Autumn and which met with very general approval. I think it is essential that demobilisation should continue to be regulated in accordance with those principles. It does not mean that everything is exactly the same, but the broad principles laid down then and accepted by those concerned should be continued: the release in Class A by group based on age and length of service, coupled with limited release under Class B of men whose special skills are needed for the urgent tasks of reconstruction at home.
We propose one addition to the scheme-a Class B release for women, in order to secure the earlier release from the forces of a limited number of women formerly engaged in key occupations, where lack of labour is seriously delaying the restoration of civil production. Although those general principles remain, and the. system of demobilisation remains, the surrender of Japan will make it possible, when plans have been re-cast, to accelerate the rate at which men and women are being released. Demobilisation will be speeded up, and while there may be necessarily some variation in the rate of demobilisation between the three Services, we shall see to it that during the next few months we return to civil life as many men and women as can be released from the Forces, consistent with meeting our military commitments and preserving fair dealing between man and man and woman and woman, on which the whole demobilisation scheme is based.
LIEUT.-COLONEL DOWER (Penrith): Can the right hon. Gentleman give any indication of the number he has in mind?
THE PRIME MINISTER: I think that may be raised later on in the Debate as I have not got the figures with me. The call up of young men must continue. It has always been a part of the demobilisation plan that the compulsory recruitment of young men should continue in order to bring relief to the older men who bore the burden, and to enable some of them to return to their homes, and the call-up will include numbers of young men at present deferred in the munitions industry. To ensure the speediest possible rate of release, the Government propose that the age at which men may be called up should be retained for the present at 30. There is, of course, a vast demand for labour for the urgent tasks of reconstruction at home, the restoration of civil industries and services to meet the needs both of home markets and the export trade. In the coming months, we shall begin to meet that demand, in part by the release from the Armed Forces, but still more by releases from the munition industry. It is from these sources that we shall provide the early relief for the labour shortage in civil industries. We estimate within the next eight weeks weld over 1,000,000 people will be released from munitions. That is a big readjustment. It is bound to bring a number of difficulties, and, while the total demand for labour will, for some time to come, exceed the supply, some local and temporary unemployment is unavoidable, particularly where factories cannot quickly be reconverted from wartime uses to peace-time production, and in areas where new industries have to be introduced. I think we shall all do a service if we explain to our constituents that they must expect some of these local difficulties.
LIEUT.-COMMANDER GURNEY BRAITHWAITE (Holderness): Hon. Members on that side might have said that at the time of the Election.
THE PRIME MINISTER: I think the hon. and gallant Member will find that the people on this side were a great deal more temperate in suggestions as to what might be done with regard to demobilisation than the people who, if not actually on the Front Bench, are very influential in the party opposite.
MR. STEPHEN (Glasgow, Camlachie): Does the right hon. Gentleman mean that those who are employed for this limited period will be granted their full wages during that period?
THE PRIME MINISTER: Perhaps the hon. Member will put that question down. I have not got the immediate answer, but we are trying to make arrangements to see that there will be as little hardship as possible. Perhaps the hon. Member will put that question to the Minister of Labour or make the point in Debate.
From demobilisation and man power I turn to some other problems. The industries serving the civilian population have not really got under way yet, and our export trade is only a fraction of what it was in pre-war days, and it follows, therefore, that the stocks of consumable goods are still very low, and that to produce them in any great quantities must take time. On the other hand, we are faced with an immense demand for goods and services, which could only be filled by a fully efficient peace-time organisation of all the resources that we can employ. We need a vast increase in homes, in the quantity of household goods, clothing, fuel and everything else. At the same time, there is banked up a great mass of purchasing power in the hands of private individuals and businesses, and people will be anxious to spend it in the satisfaction of their needs.
We therefore face two distinct dangers. The first of all is inflation. No one can doubt what would happen if scarce goods were allowed to go to the highest bidder. Prices would rise. Our limited, precious resources would be wasted without any regard to the order of priority which the national interest demands. The Government are resolved that there shall be no inflation. We are determined that the great principle of the fair and equitable sharing of resources, which has been the basis of our very national existence, and our effort during this war, shall not be abandoned, but I would emphasise that, whatever steps may be taken by the Government, we shall require the backing of all the people. I would emphasise again, that whatever controls they abandon people must not abandon self-control. It is a matter of every individual realising that what he does matters, and not assuming that everything is all right for him and that the other man can do the refraining.
There is another danger-unemployment. Much as we rejoice at the sudden victory in the East, it does enhance that danger, and we are trying to release the greatest possible number of men and women with the least possible delay. But the adaptation of war industries cannot be effected in a day or two. The places where labour is available may not be those where it is needed for new purposes, and there is the possibility of pockets of unemployment developing. Great efforts will be needed not only by the Government but by the employers and workers to reduce to a minimum the waste and wretchedness which would result from delay in fitting those released from war work into peace-time occupations. And there is a further point. The needs of our people at home are very great, but it is as well to face the fact that we shall have to start paying our way for the essential food and raw materials we have to import from abroad. However successful our efforts in the production of food on our own land-and we will do our utmost-we must continue to import a very substantial proportion of our needs if the people are to be properly fed.
A great many of these things have been met by Lend-Lease, by mutual aid, and by increasing our overseas obligation in sterling, and that is a situation which cannot go on indefinitely. Sooner or later, we have to face the fact that we can only buy abroad, if we can pay for imports in goods and services. Therefore, we must set ourselves resolutely to the task of increasing our exports. I have already called the attention of the House and the Government to the shortage of many prominent needs of the community and it is quite idle to suppose that, after all the wastage of the war, we can overtake those shortages rapidly. During the General Election there was some loose talk about the continuance of controls, and some very loose talk about the abolition of all controls by a few irresponsible people, but in the existing conditions, which I have tried to describe to the House, it would be absolute madness at the present time to abandon those financial and economic controls which have served us well during the war. There will have to be considerable adjustments, of course. It was precisely because of these conditions of scarcity, and of the need for industry being active in the national interest, that controls had to be imposed, and while those conditions exist, and those requirements continue, controls of one kind or another must remain.
I would like to refer to two of the major problems which face the Government and this country. The first is that of housing. I do not suppose that there is anything that is more in the minds of the people. Within the limits open to us, we shall do our utmost to increase and accelerate the erection of houses, but there is a tremendous leeway to be made up. The production and erection of temporary houses has not kept pace with the programme laid down by the late Government, and it must be recognised that nothing we can do in the way of new reconstruction can substantially alleviate the serious position which will arise this winter. We have all had to face that. There was no building, there was the blitz. A start was made and everybody must have realised that we could not recreate those houses in the time at our disposal. It will have to be dealt with by using all our sources of accommodation, by requisitioning empty houses, perhaps by the better use of houses partly occupied through adaptation and conversion. I have been giving consideration to the organisation necessary to ensure the vigorous direction and the concentration of effort in dealing with this urgent need. Any drastic reorganisation of Ministries would require legislation and would cause delay and I have therefore decided, at all events for the present, that responsibility for directing the housing campaign will rest with the Minister of Health, in England and Wales, and in Scotland with the Secretary of State.
The second problem is the very serious coal situation. Last year we only got through by drawing very heavily on our stocks. We face the coming winter with reduced stocks. Output, from causes which have been discussed and are well known, has been declining, and I would make a most earnest appeal to all those concerned in the industry to do their utmost to increase production, and to all coal users to use the utmost economy in fuel, light and power. And that again, is a case where it is no good leaving it to the "other man." It is the mass of individual saying that affects the people. The Government's policy of nationalising the coalmining industry will bring great advantages in the long run. [HON. MEMBERS: "How long?"] Wait a moment. I was going to tell hon. Members, but it cannot affect the position this winter. A Bill which could not be introduced until October, would hardly be likely to affect the production of coal this winter, and I must emphasise that, on coming into office, we found a serious situation, and the co-operation of all will be needed if hardships are to be avoided.
Those are the two main anxieties that beset us, but there are many others. We will apply ourselves with vigour to overcoming these difficulties, but we cannot alter the basic facts of the situation. We have the inevitable consequences of a six years' war to grapple with, but it would be a great mistake for a Government to concern themselves only with short-term problems, pressing as these are. Before the war there was, in our view, much that was wrong in the economic and social conditions in this country. A new start is being made under new conditions. We must look ahead to the future and not be for ever casting lingering glances back to a past which cannot be recaptured. We have to set about reconditioning the fabric of the economic life of the nation, in order that our economic resources can be fully utilised in the common interest. We cannot afford to have ill-managed, ill-equipped, unprogressive industries.
It is our policy that the industries and services of this country shall make their maximum contribution to the public good. At the General Election we set very plainly before the electors our policy of bringing under public ownership some of the main factors in the economic life of this country. As has been pointed out in the Gracious Speech, we intend to bring the Bank of England under public ownership and to deal with the problem of the great basic industry of coal. During the whole of the interval between the two world wars, and many years before that, we have heard of the trouble in the coal industry, year by year, and it has had widespread repercussions on our national prosperity and on other industries. Commission after Commission, committee after committee has reported adversely on the structure and organisation. We intend, therefore, to bring this industry under public ownership as part of a wider scheme of converting the provision of fuel, light and power to the public service.
My right hon. Friend opposite referred to the Trade Disputes Act of 1927, which was imposed for the first time in the history of trade union legislation without any discussion with the trade unions. That has long rankled as an act of injustice in the minds of trade unionists. I rather thought my right hon. Friend was going to cite that in another part of his speech where he was talking about freedom. This has laid as an imposition on the right of free association, and has deprived great bodies of citizens of their rights of free association which they had enjoyed for many years without any abuse, so I shall enlist his support, as a libertarian, when we introduce the Bill in favour of this repeal. It may well be that we shall have to consider, after the lapse of years, other matters in connection with the relations of these great bodies to the State, but the first thing is to clear away this thing which has to a large extent poisoned the industrial life of this country. There is one other cogent reason, that if, as we suppose, we have large numbers of citizens entering the service of the State we have to look again at these provisions which were enforced quite unnecessarily on civil servants when this Act was passed.
We also intend to deal with the problem of compensation and betterment, the solution of which is essential for the proper planning of the countryside and the full utilisation of the land in the interests of the people. They are extremely difficult problems. Finally, we intend to introduce legislation which will complete and, I believe, improve the results of the post-war planning carried out in the Coalition Government, providing for a comprehensive scheme of industrial insurance, to extend and improve the existing insurance as part of the system of social security, and to expedite the setting up of a National Health Service.
I freely admit that the programme of work we have laid before this Parliament is heavy, but we are living in a time when great changes are due. The country will expect much from this House. I do not think it will be disappointed. We shall have controversy and keen debate and that is inevitable and right-it is the method of Parliamentary democracy. I have sat too long on the Opposition benches not to be sensitive of the rights of the Opposition and of the rights of private Members. It is the right and duty of the Opposition to criticise the administration and to oppose and seek to amend the legislation of the Government, but it is none the less the right and duty of the Government to govern and to pass into law the programme which it has been elected to carry out. The successful working of our Parliamentary institutions depends on harmonising these conflicting rights and duties. It will be the object of the Government to preserve the rights of minorities as an essential feature of democracy while, at the same time, ensuring that democratic institutions are not wrecked by a failure to carry out and implement the will of the majority.
I am not asking for any indulgence for this Government-all Governments deserve criticism and should profit by it-but I would like to emphasise again before I sit down, that the situation in which we find ourselves at the end of these six years of war is very difficult. To win through this critical period in our history will require, I think, the continuance of something of the spirit which won the war, a spirit which did not allow private or sectional interests to obscure the common interests of us all and the love which we all have for our native land and for our people.