19 JULY 1957, Page 6

Westminster Commentary


STOCK HILL (I anticipate, it is true, but another display like the one he gave on Tues- day and anticipation will be- come present reality) reminds me of Archie Rice croaking, 'I 'as a go, ladies, I 'as a go, don't 1?' as justification of a performance so awful and so inept that not even the gallery can any longer be bothered to give it the bird. Mr. Brooke does indeed 'ave a go, but by the end of the well-merited leathering he received at the end of Tuesday's questions there were mem- bers of his own front, bench who were devoutly wishing he would 'ave a go with a little more sense in it.

The affair began the day before, with one of those lightning raids on the enemy's positions that used to be so skilfully organised by Mr. Geoffrey Bing. This one, however, seemed not to have been organised at all. When questions on Monday had finished, Mr. Arthur Lewis rocked to his feet and innocently sought the Speaker's guidance as to the precise point in the proceedings at which it would be appropriate for him to move the adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9, to dis- cuss a matter of urgent public importance. Mr. Lewis was careful not to disclose the nature of the matter in question, and the House was there- fore mightily intrigued, and by no means inclined to pursue Mr. Aubrey ('It is implicit in my state- ment') Jones round the Royal Ordnance Fac- tories, still less to follow Hoylake UDC up the tree of compensation for British nationals ex- pelled from Egypt.

The floor cleared, Mr. Lewis proceeded to dance his somewhat elephantine gavotte on the prostrate body of the Rent Act. Form G, it ap- peared, was not available at booksellers and stationers in quantities sufficient to meet the demand on the'part of tenants for this document. Mr. Speaker, who could not be expected to resist pointing out in passing that this was the first time the failure to issue a form had been regarded as a matter of urgent public importance, ruled that the matter did not fall within the Standing Order. Mr. Lewis, so to speak, spat on his hands and moved into action like a self-propelled battering- ram. The Minister, he declared, had a statutory duty to make these forms available, and yet- horribile dicta—they could not be obtained. Now Mr. Lewis is a battering-ram of more weight than accuracy, and it was therefore with a feeling of the keenest anticipation that I observed such skilled directors of sieges as Mr. Paget and Mr. Sidney Silverman emerge from their trenches and put their shoulders to Mr. Lewis's wheels. NC-.

Paget, who always manages to sound as though the things he is complaining about are not merely wrong but deeply and foully immoral, so that no decent man could possibly defend them, explained what the form was. With the emphasis placed so

carefully that he began to sound like the Day of

Judgment, he declared that 'This form is a nece.s.sary,,procedure for the tenant if he is to save (pause) his (long pause) home.' And anon: 'The Statute puts on the Minister a duty to produce this form. His failure to do so endangers the homes of (tremendous shout) millions of people.'

Mr. Speaker was clearly shaken, and Mr. Silver- man, remember, had not yet been heard from, though he had been bobbing up and down for some time. The ruling, however, stood; though a none too gentle rap for Mr. Brooke accompanied it. Mr. Paget gracefully yielded the floor to Mr. Silverman, who supplied the note of urgency that the Speaker had hitherto found lacking. The forms, it seemed, had to be returned by August 17, by which time the House would have risen.

Ho, hum. 'I have no doubt,' said the Speaker, 'that what has been said here today will have its effect.' He spoke more truly than he knew, for a few seconds later we were treated to the marvel- lous sight of the Leader of Her Majesty's Opposi- tion sprinting down the hill to give a final shove to the battering-ram as it rolled on its way to- wards the gates of Troy. Mr. Gaitskell, believe it or not, has heard the chimes at midnight. It has recently dawned upon him (the precise point on the Damascus road at which the light was seen has yet to be ascertained, but research continues) that the Labour Party, with reasonable luck, is going to win the next General Election, and that when that happens he is going to be. Prime Minis- ter. Suddenly his step has become more jaunty, his eye more bright, his collar more crisp. As for his nose, it is as sharp as a pen, and we may expect him to begin babbling of green fields at any moment now: The Opposition, as soon as it had recovered its breath, let loose a cheer that could have been heard clearly at Number Ten, Downing Street—and not only could have been, but was. For Mr. Macmillan, who had sat silent throughout the display, now propelled Mr. Butler to his feet. Mr. Butler, that one-man Riot Squad (though his method is not to club dissidents into submission nor even to play fire-hoses upon them, but to steal up behind them and sever their braces, taking good care to be ten yards away when their trousers fall down), flung the tranquillisers about with a profligacy that would have shocked the BMA to the core. No notice had been given. It would have been better if Mr. Lewis had ap- proached the Minister directly. The matter would be brought to the attention of the Minister. The Minister would be available to answer questions about the matter at the earliest possible moment. The Leader of the Opposition had always in- formed the Government through the usual chan- nels when such incidents were likely to occur. The necessary action would be taken. Cool off, chaps.

Now one significant factor in all this brouhaha was that the Opposition had its facts wrong from start to finish. The Rent Act does not lay a statutory obligation on the Minister to provide adequate supplies of the form. Form G does not have to be returned by August 17. Form T (which does) is not concerned with the saving of tenants homes. This being so, it appeared next day that the cards were stacked for the Government, and it must have been a source of no pleasure at alt to the Prime Minister to watch Mr. Brooke stand for nearly half an hour at the Despatch Box, trumping his own aces, revoking constantly, drop- ping his cards all over the table, and bidding six hearts with not a blood-thumper in his hand. The result was (to bid my metaphor a final adieu) that the Opposition took every trick, and if Mr. Brooke does not want to be thrown out of the Commons Crockford's he had better pull himself together pretty smartly. To have to admit, as he did, that he had failed to ensure adequate distri- bution of these forms the instant. the Rent Act came into force was a sad comment on the stand- ards of ministerial efficiency that he apparently thinks good enough. His obdurate refusal to yield an inch to The pleas of the Opposition or of his own supporters that the forms should be made available through local council offices or post offices was, in its quite unnecessary stupidity, worse. But to fumble and stumble and bumble and rumble and tumble and jumble and mumble Els Mr. Brooke did was inexcusable on any grounds and explicable only on the assumption that he is a long way short of being anywhere near up to his job. '1 am not in a muddle,' he declared, and loud hosannas burst from the ranks opposite. 'Supplies are adequate,' he repeated, and the hosannas rang out anew. 'I have underestimated nothing,' he whined, and the cries of 'Resign' bade fair to block the air-conditioning system.

Somebody whose name I am prepared to supply to anyone who will send me a stamped addressed envelope, together with a reference as to his bona fides from a Justice of the Peace, said afterwards that Mr. Brooke might almost be a Liberal, he was so stupid, a judgment that it would be difficult to improve upon. 'I 'as a go, ladies, I 'as a go, don't l?' You does, Mr. Brooke, you does. And a pretty poor go you 'as, too.

In striking contrast to Mr. Brooke's display was that of the Colonial Secretary on Monday. Now I yield to almost everybody in my admiration for Mr. Lennox-Boyd, but with Clio, in whose house- hold I am at any rate a paying guest, at my elbow, I must needs declare that he rode out the Cyprus storm with scarcely a drop of water on his well-scrubbed—nay, pomaded—decks. Mr. Lennox-Boyd is not only as long as a conger eel; he is also as slippery, and though Mr. Polly's uncle knew that you cannot catch an eel in your bare hands, Mr. James Callaghan and Miss Jennie Lee apparently did not.

The failure of the Government to produce any kind'of policy for Cyprus was proper matter for discussion and censure. But how can you keep it up for a whole debate if you know perfectly well that there is no possibility of getting any hint of sense out of. the Government? Answer (wrong answer, as it turned out): you do it by putting up Mr. Callaghan to make a brave show of believing his own oratory. So we had a lot of stuff about 'folly and madness,' delivered in a voice that was constantly threaten- ing to crack with emotion, and subsequently had a bad let-down from Miss Jennie Lee, whose visits to Wormwood Scrubs had produced material which sounded less and less sensational as she developed it, until it crumbled away, under the assault of Mr. Lennox-Boyd's elegant evasions, like fairy gold. In fact, only two things were learnt from this debate. The first is that Mr. Profumo is an even more watery young man than had previously been supposed. He really must learn that to make wild assertions about the Opposition's policy and then, realising that he has gone too far, to get out of taking what's coming to him by refusing to give way for a correction, is not only cowardly; it is also bad for his reputa- tion generally. It is also useless, since he had to give way in the end anyhow.

The other thing that transpired was that Mr. Walter Elliot can be, when he chooses, as big an ass as anybody else present, which is saying a good deal. Admittedly, partition of Cyprus is his brain-child, and a mewling and puking babe it is, too. But the rage with which he said, 'The only matter for discussion this afternoon is when parti- tion is to take place' was ill-suited to a statement so preposterous, just as the guffaws of Mr. Geof- frey Hirst while Miss Lee was reading the details of some alleged atrocities were ill-suited to—well, to anybody but Mr. Geoffrey Hirst. TAPER