Orders of the Day — Financial and Economic Situation

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 31st January 1952.

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Photo of Miss Peggy Herbison Miss Peggy Herbison , Lanarkshire North 12:00 am, 31st January 1952

That is a mere detail. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman knew very well what I meant.

It is also strange that not only hon. and right hon. Members opposite but much of the Press today expects from the Members on this side of the House a much greater attention to the real needs of the nation and the need to have unity than they ever expected or got from those who are today the Government. I was also amazed with the right hon. and gallant Gentleman's statement that they would keep faith with the people. When Scottish and British people read that in HANSARD or elsewhere, if it is reported tomorrow, it will be treated with the scorn that it deserves.

We find an astounding contrast between the promises made in the speeches of those who are now on the benches opposite before and during the Election and what has happened through their deeds and actions since they became the Government of this country. That contrast has clearly shown to our people that we have as a Government today a party that has sunk lower in political dishonesty than any other party ever did or even their own party did at any other time.

The people of Britain are inherently honest, and just because of that their dismay is all the greater and the shock is all the more severe when they find Minister after Minister of this Government standing at that Box, each statement they make breaking a further promise that they made a few short months ago to the people of this country. The people do not like it. But there is something far more important than their not liking it. They have been brought up very forcibly against the fact that this Tory Party in Great Britain is no different than it ever was in its attitude to the great majority of people and their needs.

It is quite true that the present Chancellor has made no attempt at any time to hide behind that cloak of assumed ignorance about the economic situation behind which some of his friends hide. He has been absolutely truthful in saying that no one could doubt the seriousness of our situation. But the Financial Secretary takes the opposite line. He suggests that it was only when they became the Government of this country that they really discovered the serious economic situation that we were in. I suggest to the Financial Secretary that if, perhaps, he had paid more attention to studying the economic situation of the country, rather than bringing up Prayer after Prayer on many unimportant things, he might not have found it such a surprise when he became Financial Secretary to discover that we were in a serious economic situation.

But a good many of them now show in their speeches that this financial crisis is not something new, that it is, as the Leader of the Opposition said today, something which has been happening over 50 years. The speech of the ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer during the election campaign showed quite clearly how serious was our position. But did the leaders of this Government, did even any of their least known candidates, tell the people during the Election that, because of our economic situation, there would be further deprivations for our people? Not a bit of it.

Let us look at any of the propaganda which came from the Tory Central Office. Let us look at the election addresses which came into homes in North Lanark, or into the homes of any part of Britain. There we find very clearly the Tories doing what they have done for six years, telling the people of this country that all their difficulties all their deprivations, were due to the inept, incompetent Labour Government—no hint whatever that whatever Government were returned to power there would have to be measures taken to help to solve the economic situation. There was no suggestion of that at all.

In many speeches, broadcast and from platforms, they said that our food supplies would be safeguarded; that we would have more food; that the cost of living would go down. What a farce that is now. What has happened since the General Election? Bacon up 10d. a lb.; chees up 10d.—not up 1d.—and these are two of the important things in the cost of living of every worker in this country. Yet these were the promises on which the present Government was returned to power.

The slogan of the whole of their campaign was, "It is time for a change." We saw it on the hoardings and in the literature that came in our doors. It was time for a change. They told us that the social service would be maintained. I remember quite clearly what I described as a comic strip which came from the Tory Central Office during the election. On the front page there was a series of pictures, each one depicting different groups of people telling us it was time for a change and all the wonderful things that would happen immediately the Tories came to power. The Financial Secretary tried to plead today that they did not say they could do all that in three months. No, they did not say to our people an old Scotch saying, Live auld horse, and ye'll get corn. But that is what the Financial Secretary is trying to tell the people today. It is time for a change, forsooth. Without much propaganda from our people on these benches the people of Britain are today crying, and crying loudly, that already it is time for a change of Government, from a Tory Government to a Labour Government. And they are doing that crying exactly because His Majesty's Government today have dishonoured almost every promise they ever made.

It is quite clear from the measures which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has announced to deal with this crisis that the main aim of the Tories on returning to power is the aim they have always had in this country—to ensure that the interests of a privileged few would be safeguarded. And the only way of safeguarding the interests of a privileged few today is the same as it has always been—by taking from the essentials of life of the majority of the people of this country.

In that comic strip, to which I have made reference, there were a few young people. They were saying, in the copy that came into my home during the Election, that the Unionists—and, for those who do not know, I would say that is the name the Scottish Tories take, since they seem to be ashamed of, or at least they seem to shy away from the name "Conservative" or the name "Tory," but that, of course, is by the way—they were saying the Unionists would give young people their chance. Poor young people, if any of them were deluded by that bit in that comic strip.

What is to happen in education? The Financial Secretary felt he had scored a great point when he read out a circular which had been sent to local authorities when we were the Government of the day. But the point that we have made ever since that 5 per cent. cut was announced is that at this present moment, because the education authorities had had to cut previously, there is no chance whatever of their cutting in education at all without ruining the fabric of our education. Yesterday the Chancellor seemed to make very light of this 5 per cent. He said: The Minister of Education has been accused of dreadful things on the score of her recent request to local education authorities to reduce their forecasts for next year by about 5 per cent. overall. Watching, listening and reading of the hue and cry which has been going on, I have wondered at the lack of faith of many of my own educational friends. This Government has always believed with Disraeli that, to use his words, 'Upon the education of the people of this country the fate of this country depends.' What this Government have done with this 5 per cent. cut has given the lie to this claim that they make, using the words of Disraeli to back it up. The Chancellor went on: The Minister of Education and the Secretary of State for Scotland will maintain the essential fabric of education."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th January, 1952; Vol. 495, c. 53.] I want to show clearly that if we insist on this 5 per cent. cut, grave damage will be done to education in this country. We find, from circulars and so on, that it is not intended to cut teachers' salaries. I began to teach in 1930, and in 1931 along came the economy axe and the Government of that day, which was mainly a Tory Government, told each education authority that it must have a 10 per cent. cut. But that 10 per cent. cut also applied to teachers' salaries. This 5 per cent. cut does not apply to teachers' salaries.

In most education authorities the expenditure on teachers' salaries alone is roughly 50 per cent. of the total spending. Some authorities spend over 50 per cent. and others spend just under 50 per cent. on this item. The 5 per cent. cut is not to touch that. There was a suggestion from the Ministry that books, stationery and materials ought to be adequate and should not be cut. Again, that takes up another percentage.

I could give all the points where it would be impossible to make any cut. When we add together those parts of our educational system in which it is impossible to make any cut, we find that they account for about 80 per cent. of the expenditure of any education authority. That means that a little under 20 per cent. will have to bear the full 5 per cent. cut on the whole expenditure on education.

I am seriously perturbed at the fact that grants to school children over 15 years of age and grants to those going to universities come into that 20 per cent. section. We, as the Labour Government and as a Labour Party, were intensely proud that for the first time in the history of Great Britain we had made equality of opportunity a living thing in education. If this 5 per cent. cut is insisted on, can the Financial Secretary tell me where it will be made if it cannot be made on the 80 per cent. and if one of the bigger parts of the 20 per cent. covers these grants? If these grants are affected it will do a great deal to ruin the fabric of our educational system as we know it today.

I do not expect to get support from Members of His Majesty's Government for the justice of equality of opportunity in education. I have always realised as a student and a teacher that it was impossible to expect a Tory Government or a Tory Party to support the idea of equality of opportunity in education. The one point I want to make is that that 5 per cent. cut will not affect the education of one child of a Member sitting opposite. I am certain that that 5 per cent. cut will affect precious few of the people whose interests they really serve in this House of Commons.