Ministry of Health.

Part of Civil Estimates, 1936. – in the House of Commons on 16th July 1936.

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Photo of Mr Arthur Greenwood Mr Arthur Greenwood , Wakefield

I am drawing no conclusions from the right hon. Gentleman's description. Now that he sits there he is no longer a benign mosquito. He is a sort of benevolent uncle. I think there must have been some transmigration of soul. Perhaps at some future time, when political fortunes change, the right hon. Gentleman may really become a benevolent uncle announcing the Children's Hour at the B.B.C. He has made a speech which one anticipated in which, by implication, he attributed the whole of the nation's progress for the last 50 or 60 years to the actions of the National Government. But I am glad to think that, also by implication, he at least paid some tribute to Acts of Parliament which were put on the Statute Book when we occupied opposite places in this House His references to the operations of the Mental Treatment Act and the Housing Act, 1930, are to be welcomed on this side of the Committee.

The right hon. Gentleman occupies a post of very great importance, and I am certain that he feels proud of the position, because he realises individually, if not collectively, that it is far better to heal the sores of an imperfect social system than to pave the way to war, that clinics are far better than bombing aeroplanes and that maternity centres and hospitals are infinitely superior to casualty clearing stations. I hope the right hon. Gentleman is going to look very closely to the interests of the social services which he administers and supervises, and which it is part of his duty to inspire. I regard our social services, which have been built up by all political parties in the State for three or four generations, as one of our greatest national achievements. They have been built up clumsily, it is true. They have not been conceived as a perfectly coordinated system. They have, in the curious British fashion, been moulded to meet insistent social evils as they have imprinted themselves on the public mind, but without our social services this country would be infinitely weaker and poorer than it is to-day.

One of my chief criticisms of the last five years is that the National Government thought it necessary in what they regarded as the national interest—I am trying to be as unprovocative as possible to-day, which is rather a new role for me to play in this House—and in their wisdom, to put a break on the big social services and to damp down the greater progress that might have been made. I cannot believe that even in a financial crisis that was wise national policy. Money can be saved, but health, life, vigour and vitality once they have gone can very rarely be restored. We look forward to the right hon. Gentleman taking off the brake and giving the signal for full-speed ahead. I should like to ask him to try to persuade the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who has also occupied the office of Minister of Health on more than one occasion, to loosen his purse-strings for the constructive social services, and to show the same generosity there that he has shown to the rearmament programme of the Government. Again, I am not trying to be provocative; I am restraining myself, but it is unfortunate that while the Chancellor of the Exchequer has declared how sorry he is that he can find no money for the social services, the three fighting Services find in him an openhearted friend. In the view of the Labour party the social services of this country are absolutely fundamental to national well-being, and we look to the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health, as the standard-bearer of our cause, going out to do battle with the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

I have had some little experience of Chancellors of the Exchequer and they all seem to be equally parsimonious. No Chancellor of the Exchequer has ever rushed into another Department offering promissory notes. To get money out of the Chancellor of the Exchequer is like getting butter out of a dog's mouth. But the Minister of Health has this advantage, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is an ex-Minister of Health and has boasted on many occasions that as a result of his mighty efforts as Chancellor of the Exchequer in successive Budgets, he has rescued the country from national ruin and put it on a basis of prosperity. If that be true, the social services should share in the prosperity. The right hon. Gentleman's Estimates do not show that this is happening. His Estimates this year are increased because of perfectly automatic increases, which would have taken place altogether apart from any alterations in legislation. I would do everything I could to help the right hon. Gentleman to carry on his work. There is one suggestion I want to make. I could not carry it out myself, because I do not possess the art of advertisement, which is one of the qualities of the right hon. Gentleman.