Orders of the Day — Budget Proposals

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 16th April 1953.

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Photo of Mr Michael Maitland Stewart Mr Michael Maitland Stewart , Fulham East 12:00 am, 16th April 1953

The Financial Secretary mentions old age pensioners, but I think he knows very well the point I have in mind. Those who have worked hard all their lives are in one category. I am concerned with another category—people who get comfortably-sized incomes from the day of their birth for which they have done nothing at all and will do nothing. Both economically and, still more, morally and psychologically, that is something which this country cannot afford.

We also need a sure confidence on the part of working people that full employment will be maintained. The movement of the figures, as shown in the Economic Survey, is not such as to maintain that confidence, but it must be maintained at a high level if we are to get the attitude on the part of workers which will make them eagerly willing to accept new technical methods of production and willing to accept the degree of mobility of labour which we shall need if the country is to deal with these difficulties.

We also need an increasing measure of social justice. Hon. Members opposite are constantly trying to find discreditable facts in the record of the last Government, although sometimes they are not quite sure which facts to take. For example, 18 months ago, it was said to be the fault of the late Government that they went out of office leaving the cupboard bare. The hon. Member for Handsworth has just told us that it was our fault that we left the cupboard too full.

But this at least was apparent. During those years, although we had to face balance of payments crises, as this Government has had to face them and will have to face them again, we came through them with an economy which continued to produce more. The nation came through the last balance of payments crisis, but at the end of it the patient's vitality was lowered and his productive power was less. One reason why we achieved those results with the last Government was that, by and large, the working people in the country were convinced of the justice of the society within which and for which they were working. We have to increase that sense of justice if we are to reverse this downward trend in production.

Further, we have to make a positive advance in the field of technical education. It will not be enough for Governments to say that we are spending just enough more on education not quite to keep pace with the increasing number of children. Quite apart from any of the other arguments which may be advanced about education, the need for an improvement in the quantity and quality of our technical education is one of the pressing economic needs of the time.

Finally, among the things which we need. I mentioned that this job of investment and direction of our resources needs to be done today increasingly by public authorities rather than by private persons. We therefore need an increasing section of our economy under public ownership and direction, otherwise we shall reproduce the results which appeared in the years between the wars because, all that time, we had this lower level of taxation which hon. Members opposite keep telling us will solve all our problems—and it did no such thing.

Those four things are at least some of the things which we need—a greater relationship between people's incomes and what they do to earn them; an increasing degree of social justice; improved technical education: and a larger public sector in our economy. Over all those points we are walking in the wrong direction, and I believe that if we continue to do so we shall, in the words of the late Lord Keynes, which he used in condemning the way in which this country's problems were dealt with in the 1930s, end with the Budget balanced at nought on both sides and with ourselves lying flat on our backs producing nothing and consuming nothing.