Budget Proposals and Economic Survey

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 24th April 1950.

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Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Test 12:00 am, 24th April 1950

I understand that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Stanley), who is winding up for the Opposition, is to rise at a certain time, so that I have only a limited period in which to make one or two observations. I was very interested in the remarks of the hon. Member for Orpington (Sir W. Smithers), and I think it is about time that some of them were answered from this side of the Committee. Most of us were born into a much less happy England than that about which the hon. Member for Orpington is complaining. This Budget and those which have preceded it by Socialist Chancellors are a little nearer Christianity than Budgets of previous Governments, which placed most of the major burdens on the shoulders of those least able to bear them.

If the issue, as the hon. Member for Orpington suggests, is between Christianity and Communism, the only way in which that issue can be won for Christianity is by building a civilisation in this country much nearer true Christianity than the one in which we were born. The hon. Member for Orpington has been very free in his quotations from hymn books and from the Scriptures. I want to commend this Budget and the work of this Government on the lines of a very great saying indeed in the New Testament—"Suffer the little children to come unto me." If by our social legislation, if by the expenditure on social services and if by bringing health resources within the capacity of those who are the poorest children of the land we are making it possible today for all children of all classes to live healthier and happier lives, then we are contributing to a battle for the victory of real Christianity in this country.

We on this side of the Committee are wholeheartedly behind the Chancellor in the major lines of his Budget. We rejoice to think that the social services are going on and that we are doing that work of ending the Poor Law system in this country. We rejoice further that we are carrying out a system of building up fair shares for all our people. I want to say one very simple thing about this Budget and about the social services. In the various discussions we have had over this Budget there have been demands from the Opposition for economy, and behind all their case is a demand for economies either in the food subsidies, on the one hand—and in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Leeds North (Mr. Peake) on Friday we at last got a definite statement of the policy of our opponents on the food subsidies—or in the social services, on the other.

We on this side of the House do not regard the social services as luxuries. We regard the demands of the people of this country as expressed, not in the 1944 Education Act only but in the campaign of Socialist speakers throughout this century, for equality of opportunity for all English children, as not a luxury which we may condescend to afford grudgingly from time to time. We think of it as a vital right which should be the property of every child born into this land.

Our regret about the Budgets of these days is not that the expenditure on social services is so vast, but that even now, because of the economic circumstances of today, we are compelled to deprive the children still of anything like equality of opportunity. We are securing for them equality of opportunity to build up healthy bodies. We hope that the expenditure on education will serve the same purpose for their minds. Incidentally, this expenditure could be only one-fifth or perhaps one-tenth of what it will be if the Opposition, when they were in power between the two wars, had built schools at a fraction of what it will cost us today. The demand for equality of opportunity is no luxury that we are going to hand out in little instalments year by year. As we get out of the economic crisis we shall resolutely move forward much more quickly than we can today.

I noticed that the hon. Member for Orpington talked about the prestige of Britain. I believe that our prestige is not to be measured in terms of imperial control over other countries but is to be measured in the happiness and the standard of living of all its people. From that standpoint, the prestige of Britain never stood so high as it does today.

While agreeing with the general principles of the Budget, I am worried about two things. One is that I fear in these times of economic crisis, when we talk about the wage freeze, that we are inclined to think that the present basis of reward for services in this community is becoming static and final, something which must prevail for all time. I suggest that we have not reached anything like perfection in the rewards given for work done in this community as long as we regard a doctor as worth eight times a teacher, or two-thirds a dentist; as long as we imagine that millions of English people doing an honest day's work cannot be provided with a minimum wage of £5 a week; as long as we regard 10 per cent. profit as the normal profit which Messrs. Guest, Keen and Nettlefold's may earn in times of great economic crisis and distress; and as long as we still have people living on the community and rendering no profitable service for that community, while drawing far more than they are giving, to the best of their ability by physical or mental labour.

I regret that it was not possible to give relief in this Budget to those honest English citizens who do their ordinary day's work but, because they happen to be in the unfortunate industry of agriculture, on the one hand, or of railways on the other, because they happen to be labourers in certain British industries, cannot be provided with the standard of living which is represented by £5 per week as a minimum wage. I would like, at the risk of losing the incentive of Income Tax relief, of which the Chancellor has spoken, to see that relief distributed in the form of indirect taxation; on beer, although not all of them drink it, or upon tobacco, although not all of them smoke it, or on children, although not all of the lowest paid workers in this country are married. Even in this very difficult Budget in a very difficult year I should have liked to see something given to the lowliest people in the land, the people who by force of circumstances find themselves in an industry which cannot provide them with a decent minimum wage.

I had the delightful, rare privilege for a Member of Parliament of listening-in at the week-end, and I heard a re-echo of the talk given by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Stanley) upon the Budget. I heard him reprove the Chancellor as a wicked beekeeper who kept the sugar, and pleaded for sugar for the bees. I suggest that the system from which we are gradually escaping was one which compelled some very honest bees to live under conditions where they knew that the harder they worked the sooner they would be deprived of the means of working. I hope the day is coming when we shall evolve a Budget and a state of society in which we shall provide sugar for the bees that work and in which we shall gradually have deprived the drones in the community of sugar.