Government Policy

Part of Orders of the Day — King's Speech – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 29th October 1947.

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Photo of Sub-Lieutenant Herschel Austin Sub-Lieutenant Herschel Austin , Stretford 12:00 am, 29th October 1947

There is no significance in the £1,000 If we tax those who can afford to be taxed we may hurt them by denying them certain superficial luxuries; they may not be able to go to the. cinema or theatre so often; they may have to do without fur coats for their wives more than once a year. We may hit them, but we hit them in their pockets. What I want to impress on my right hon. Friends is that if we remove the food subsidies we hit the working-class where it hurts most—in the stomach, and we dare not do that. I make this appeal to the Government Front Bench tonight. If they embark on a policy of reducing the food subsidies, they are asking for a certain amount of opposition from their own ranks. It is all very well for us to be given assurances that this is not taking place, but the Chancellor, in his Budget Speech in April last, gave an indication that he intended to embark on such a policy, or at any rate there seemed to be a threat to food subsidies. Since then many commodities have had subsidies removed. Dried eggs have gone up by 9d. a packet; they have been taken off jams; I understand fish has gone up from 5d. to 7d. a lb., and a little while ago sugar went up by 2d. a lb. That, in fact, is the removal of subsidies. In the field of textiles, blankets went up by 15s. a pair a little while ago, which may not seem very much, but to a working-class couple is a burden they cannot afford. Let it be understood that the function of taxation is to equalise wealth and to lessen the burden on the working-classes. If there is any tampering with food subsidies, then the whole structure of wages and prices will have to be looked into afresh.

Another question which interests me is a question I raised on the Adjournment in May last, namely, that of deserters. Aptly enough, it was raised at Question Time today. I was not permitted to make the point I wanted because it was out of Order. In three or four weeks time, we shall see Princess Elizabeth and Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten married. It is going to be an occasion for joy in the Royal family and in the hearts of many of our people. When we think of the emotion of those in high and exalted families, we ought also to remember the emotions of those at a lesser level. I am referring to the families of those men who are unfortunately classified as deserters. I suggest to the Government that this is the appropriate time and occasion for making some gesture of mercy to those lads who, in many cases through no fault of their own, became deserters. It must be remembered that most of these men went into the Forces just as good, honest, and decent men as Members of this House. They are entitled to be given an opportunity to be rehabilitated again in civilian life, and to rejoin their loved ones.

I ask the Prime Minister whether he will not consider some remission of sentence in the case of those men who are now serving a term of imprisonment, and whether, for those who have not been apprehended, of which there are something like 17,000–and it does not look as if they will ever be apprehended—compelled in many cases to live a life of crime, some relaxation in the conditions of surrender cannot be permitted. It is a small matter affecting something like 17,000 men and their families, but it is symptomatic of a great many other humanities and it should be given our consideration.