This time last year we had just witnessed unusual events in the House of Commons. Then the Government had lost a vote on the public expenditure White Paper. I had called on the Prime Minister (Harold Wilson) to go. To everyone's amazement he did. The trouble was that he did not take his whole Cabinet with him. But at least we must congratulate the last Prime Minister; first, on actually voting; second, on tabling a motion of confidence on his own initiative the next day and debating it; and third, on knowing when to go.
The events of last week's public expenditure debate are of a kind that we have never seen before. It is true that Governments have been defeated before. But no Government faced with a parliamentary battle, has turned and fled, then claimed: “We were not defeated, we did not vote” . It is as if a demoralised army, when they had lost the day, said: “We cannot have been defeated because we just ran away. We dared not fight, we just surrendered, but of course we were not defeated” . But in effect they were defeated, and a Government that cannot get its major policies through the House of Commons cannot survive. [end p1]
This was a major issue. Public expenditure comes from the taxpayers pay packet or pensioners pension. Every pound taken by Government is a pound lost for the citizen to spend himself. And the Government takes a lot of pounds. To be precise, it is proposing to spend some £52 thousand million this year.
To us, all power is a trust and we are responsible for its exercise. Responsible to whom? To Parliament. To the elected representatives of the people. But this is the very body the Government tried to stop from taking a decisive vote: yet surely the scrutiny of public expenditure is central to the functions of Parliament itself. It is one of the reasons why Parliament came into existence and assumed its present form. Beginning of section checked against BBC Radio News Report 1800 19 March 1977
Over the years it gained the title of the Mother of Parliaments. We became the pattern for Parliaments the world over. It's the Parliament from which others used to look up to and respect. It is the Parliament from which others expected a lead.
Some respect. Some lead. Since Thursday. End of section checked against BBC Radio News Report 1800 19 March 1977
Today we have a Government which cannot get its legislation through the House; which dare not submit its economic policies to the judgment of the House. It's like to situation in the Ancient Mariner.
“Day after day, day after day, We stuck, nor breath nor motion; As idle as a painted ship Upon a painted ocean” .[end p2]
Moreover, the Government changes the rules of the House when it chooses, as it did on the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Nationalisation Bill, to try to take from the citizen his ancient right of petition if his interests were affected. In other words, we have a Government which uses the Parliamentary process when it suits it and which abuses it when it does not.
Parliamentary democracy and Socialism go ill together. They can't long exist side by side. One or the other will wither. Let it not be parliamentary democracy. Beginning of section checked against BBC Radio News Report 1800 17 March 1977
Now, faced with this situation, we Conservatives had to take a decision. You know what that decision was. I'm convinced it was the right one. We put down a Motion, that this House has no confidence in Her Majesty's Government. (Applause.) Let it never to said that we Conservatives feared to fight in the forum of the people. And let it be sure that we fight to win. [End of section checked against BBC Radio News Report 1800 17 March 1977.] Though the decision will not rest with us, if an Election should come, we are ready. [end p3](2) Western Morning News, 21 March 1977
As the crucial vote gets nearer …
THATCHER RALLIES TORY TROOPS FOR AN ELECTION
Mrs. Margaret Thatcher used the stage of Torquay's Princess Theatre at the week-end for a spirited call to Conservatives to prepare for a General Election.
The Opposition leader accused the Socialists of being “funks,” after Thursday's public expenditure debate, and hammered them for policies which, she claimed, had brought the country close to economic ruin and made Britain into a cheap bazaar for overseas visitors.
At the end of her speech Mrs. Thatcher received a five-minute standing ovation from the 1,500 Conservatives attending the final session of the annual meeting of the Conservative Central Council.
During the conference much play was made of the fact that a small protective island off Torquay's coastline is named Thatcher Rock. After her speech, she was presented by Young Conservatives with a large, red, white and blue stick of rock, and by Torbay's MP, Sir Frederic Bennett with a painting of Thatcher Rock.
Mrs. Thatcher confessed she was not sure how the vote of no confidence, which could lead to the fall of the Government, will go on Wednesday.
“We must stand rock solid through the Election,” she said. “It might be right upon us, but even if it does not come this time, it won't be long.”
She said that the events of last Thursday were of a kind that Parliament had never seen before. No previous Government faced with a Parliamentary battle had “funked it” and fled like this one, and then had the gall to say: “We weren't defeated—we didn't vote.”
It was as if a demoralised army having lost the day said: “We can't have been defeated because we ran away. We daren't fight, we just surrendered but we weren't defeated.” In effect the Government were defeated, and with dishonour, and a Government that could not get its major policies through the Commons could not survive.
Public expenditure was a major issue. It came from the taxpayer's pay packet or the pensioner's pension. Every £ taken by the Government was a £ less for the citizen to spend and it was proposing to spend some £52,000 million this year.
To the Conservatives all power was a trust and they were accountable to the elected representatives of the people. Yet this was the very body the Government tried to stop from taking a decisive vote, and the scrutiny of public expenditure was central to the functions of Parliament itself.
Today we had a Government which could not get its legislation through the House and which daren't submit its economic policies to the judgment of the House. But it had not hesitated to change the rules of the House when it chose, as it did on the aircraft and shipbuilding Bill.
“Parliamentary democracy and Socialism go ill together. They can not long exist side by side. One or the other will wither—and let it never be Parliamentary democracy,” she declared.
The Conservatives had put down the motion that the House had no confidence in the Government. “Let it never be said that the Conservatives feared to fight in the forum of the people. And let it be sure they fought to win. Though the decision does not rest with them, if an election should come they are ready.”
In the weeks ahead they had to make clear to everyone the nature of the choice facing them, for the next General Election would be the most crucial in our history, and basically about the future of our society—the Left or the Right approach.
During the 13 years of Conservative Government from 1951 to 1964 there was an increase in freedom, benefits for the consumer, cuts in control and taxation, good profits, rising incomes and rapidly rising home ownership. Inflation touched four per cent. a year and unemployment touched 800,000.
Two Labour Governments had brought Britain close to economic ruin and turned it into a sort of cheap bazaar for our better off friends.
The Socialists were saying that inflation was only 16.2 per cent. “If that is all they have to crow about the sooner they go the better,” she declared. “They are the party of national unemployment, impoverished at home and humiliated abroad. That is the price we have to pay for Socialism.”