5 APRIL 1957, Page 6

Westminster Commentary

Still, short of Lord Salisbury nipping round to Buckingham Palace and explaining that when he said 'Macmillan' what he really meant was 'Butler' (`The names are so alike, ma'am'), 'that particular crisis seems to be over before it has begun. True, while it lasted it made Taper look slightly out of date, though I feel there was probably more behind the decision to release Archbishop Makarios than that. But Mr. Macmillan's speech on Monday, in the debate on the Bermuda con- ference communiqué, was preceded and followed by an impressive roll of Tory cheers. Mr. Mac- millan, they seemed to be saying, is the best Prime Minister we have; the really shattering thing is that it is probably true.

First things, however, first. Before ever the de- bate began Mr. Selwyn Lloyd, that distinguished ex-member of Hoylake Urban District Council, had got slightly rattled when questioned about the Tripartite Declaration. Others besides the Foreign Secretary were to get rattled before the long day drew to a close, but Mr. Lloyd seems to get pinker and less engaging than most when it happens to him.

Admittedly, Mr. Macmillan rose to make his first major speech as Prime Minister under a con- siderable handicap; Sir Winston Churchill was sitting immediately below the gangway, listening (or perhaps, worse still, not listening). Stat magni nominis umbra; Mr. Macmillan wisely refrained from attempting any flights of oratory, any purple passages. The result, unfortunately, was fifty-nine minutes of such paralysing boredom that I shall be greatly surprised if it did not raise the strontium level in my bones to a level dangerously near the maximum permissible limit. (When Mr. Gaitskell got going leukemia set in, but of that more in a moment.) The real trouble was that the Prime Minister's speech was not a report on Bermuda, nor a speech outlining the Government's policy, nor even an eve-of-poll oriflamme; it was an address to the 1922 Committee, and the fact that he happened to be making it to the House of Commons neither here nor there. There had been a great deal of loose talk about Mr. Macmillan having to make the speech of his life, references to the fate of the Government (Hanging in the balance' I think somebody said), and much else of a like kidney. In fact, the dovecots have been a lot less fluttered than they would like to think down at Hatfield. But, still, Mr. Macmillan knew that his party had turned up in force (encouraged, no doubt, by a three-line whip) to hear him, and he did them, by their standards, proud. There was something for everybody : for the lunatic fringe in his proud boast that the release of Archbishop Makarios was all his own work, for the others the announce- ment of the Commonwealth Conference, for the record an assurance that the passage of Israeli ships through the Canal was still covered by the six principles.

The heat rose only once. Mrs. Barbara Castle, deeming herself to have been deprived, at ques- tion-time, of a sufficiently adequate reply to her question about the bomb-tests, rose to interrupt the Prime Minister. But Mr. Macmillan would not give way. Now the spectacle of a member refusing to yield is a fairly common one; Mrs. Castle, how- ever, was foolish enough to lose her temper. And when I say lose her temper, I do not mean become slightly annoyed. I mean lose her temper. Up and down she bobbed, the flaming torch of her hair seemed to burn ever more brightly as her face grew whiter with rage. `Siddown,' yelled the gents opposite, their public-school upbringing well to the fore. 'Order,' said the Speaker, putting it rather more politely.

But Mrs. Castle had thrown away her scabbard, and sense with it. 'I did have a question down,' she cried, inviting from the Speaker the reply, The hon. Lady must recognise that question-time is now over.' On she went, whiter yet and whiter : 'The right hon. Gentleman's courtesy is com- mitted in this . . ."Siddown,' yelled the public schools again, peppering it with a few more primi- tive bellows of 'Gam.' Mrs. Castle sat down, and as the Prime Minister returned to the Despatch Box, flung herself back against her seat with the one word `Coward.' The House, for, a moment, held its breath, but Mr. Speaker, that infinitely wise old owl, decided that Mrs. Castle had had sufficient punishment, and declined to hear, whereat Hansard followed suit.

But the game was not yet finished, and Mrs. Castle was .destined to take one trick, The Prime. Minister was coming to the end, and, looking up at the clock, said, 'I apologise to the House for the length of time I have taken, but it is not entirely my fault. I have tried to give way to all interruptions, as far as possible.' The red head ducked forward, as a patient beast of prey might spring when its evening meal at last came down to the water-hole to drink. 'So I've noticed !' said Mrs. Castle, and promptly spoilt it by rising in her place once more, giving Mr. Macmillan the oppor- tunity to refuse her once again; after which there was nothing for her to do but to stalk from the House with as much dignity as she could muster, which wasn't a lot.

And so to Mr. Gaitskell. Any man who attempts, in the course of the same speech, to please both Mr. George Brown and Mr. Konni Zilliacus has got his work cut out, and Mr. Gait- skell's speech to his back-benchers was noticeably less successful than Mr. Macmillan's to his, and every bit as dull. The difference, I suppose, is that Tory malcontents are troubled by a general feel- ing of dismay, without being able to tell doctor precisely where it hurts, while Labour dissidents know exactly what they want, even if they can't have it and would wreck the country if they did. Moreover, the Tory army of the 'not-exactly- gruntled' (with the deepest of bows to the Master) is headless (for though one could call Captain Waterhouse by many titles 'inspiring leader of men' is not among them), whereas desperate characters on the other side can always ask for asylum in Ebbw Vale. However this may be, when father papered the parlour he left a number of cracks showing. Do we make the bomb or not? Do we test it or leave it untried? Or do we make it but not test it? Or do we test it but not puke it? Mr. Belloc, as the Leader of the Opposition droned on, sprang unbidden and irreverently to mind : The question's very much too wide And much too round, and much too hollow, And learned men on either side Use arguments we cannot follow. The debate which followed was as undistinguished as most of the people who took part in it. Mr. Peter Rawlinson spoke up loudly, albeit preposter- ously, for the lunatic fringe, with a dash of purest fantasy about the Leader of the Opposition fixing him 'with a baleful eye' in that part of Mr. Gait- skell's speech that dealt with the famous anti- American motion (RIP). I am sorry to disappoint Mr. Rawlinson, but Mr. Gaitskell did no such thing, and indeed I doubt if he knows who Mr. Rawlinson is. Mr. Zilliacus as usual quoted exten- sively from almost every printed document that has appeared since Caxton's deplorable invention. Mr. Wigg said—honest he did—that the Prime Minister had been batting on a sticky wicket. Mr. Noel-Baker, sen., must almost have made Mr. Gaitskell wish that Mr. Bevan had not gone a- visiting, though that 'almost' is an important one.

Hoylake Urban District Council wound up. When he stuck to the speech he had, neatly typed, in front of him the Conservative Research Centre struck some telling blows, but when he left their patiently collected quotations and instances, and said something on his own account, Mr. Lloyd was well-nigh past belief. To analyse his defence of the Suez adventure, in which he ran through all the excuses that had been put forward, seria- tim, while it was going on, and even added another, would need a psychiatrist rather than a political commentator.

Which leaves me no room to talk about Friday's debate on the Obscene Publications Bill, in which many fine things happened. Lord Lambton gave some before-and-after figures for the sales of a book which had been indicted as obscene, warm- ing many a heart as he did so. Mr. Dudley Williams, in the only speech against the Bill, dragged in the Daily Express and thus ensured his due meed of quotation in the Evening Standard. Mr. Simon, for the Government, added another straw to the wind which is beginning to blow through the hitherto rather unsavoury corridors of the Home Office. As for me, I nipped back and forth to see what books hon. Members had brought with them. Mr. Greenwood had St. John Stevas's Obscenity and the Law, Mr. Paget Robert Henriques's 100 Hours to Suez, while only . Mr. Bowden had a horror comic; he was to be seen earnestly studying The Times Guide to• the